Thursday, Dec 13, 2018
HomeIf Your Home Could SpeakIt’s not BPL’s fault

It’s not BPL’s fault

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.”
– Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

Who thinks they have the wherewithal to change the BPL situation? How many times are we prepared to rely on promises to reduce the cost of power to the consumer? The truth is that the consumer (you and I) has no control whatever over what BPL does, or how it does it. We can demand change in BPL leadership or even in government, but we can have no control of how the new administration manages the equation of fuel cost, debt, old equipment, distribution and human resources. Plus, changes made today will seldom be reflected in the short-term. It is irresponsible of politicians to keep promising us relief, and just plain stupid of us to keep expecting it overnight.

For decades we have been advised that we should take control of the things we can, rather than continue to rant against the things we can’t. Architects (the responsible ones) have advised that, since the greatest users of power are buildings, we should focus on designing and building buildings that use less energy, less of BPL’s expensive power. Basically, we have ignored their advice, preferring to chase the “look” of less appropriate architecture and the touch-of-the-button convenience of air conditioning. That, of course, is our prerogative. We make the choices that shape our circumstances. But we cannot continue to blame someone else. It is not BPL’s fault that we have a huge power bill. It is our own fault that we continue to believe we “need” BPL’s power.

The following is an article published in 2010 that I hope can be taken more seriously today.

Good morning sunshine

The Bahamas is known as alternately the land of the 700 islands and the land of the shallow seas. It was also once known as the land of the sea and sun. But perhaps the most appropriate name might be the land of perpetual sunshine. Statistically, the sun is always shining somewhere in The Bahamas. With this resource available, it is surprising that there is so little encouragement for its use as an alternate source of energy in the design of our environment. It is certainly no secret that the search for alternatives to the use of depletable, polluting fossil fuel is an important issue for the planet as we begin this new era, and that the sun and wind offer a number of opportunities.

Building design

There are many strategies available to us in the design of buildings that involve the creative use of the sun. The sun gives us both heat and light. In the design of the external skin of the building, we have the opportunity to manage the extent to which we allow the overheating of the interior, thereby reducing the need for air-conditioning, using various types of shade devices and the insulation of the walls of the building. We also have the opportunity to use the sun’s light on the inside, both for work and for the creation of more exciting spaces, reducing the need for artificial lighting. Some of the shade devices used traditionally in the Bahamas include the push-out shutter, the porch, louvered and latticed screens and the planting of trees in strategic locations. The shading of buildings, of course, requires an understanding of the path of the sun and its characteristics over the course of the day.

Solar heating

The most popular use of the sun for heating in The Bahamas is for heating water. Domestic water heating has been popular in the Bahamas for many years, until the introduction of electric water heaters. Many older buildings in the city still have the remnants of the old solar collectors on their roofs. The technology has not changed, and the opportunity to eliminate one of the heaviest users of electricity in the house is still only a decision away. Additionally, there is now the opportunity to heat swimming pools and decks. Of course, using the sun for heating the house during the Bahamian winter is also a building design objective.

Solar electricity

One of the most recent trends in the use of the sun is the conversion of solar rays into electricity for use in buildings. While there are practical limitations in the wide use of “photovoltaic”, its use for lighting and other small consumers of electricity is now very common, and should be encouraged in design. Solar powered calculators and other small devices have already given way to solar streetlights, traffic lights etc.

The production of potable water

In the 1960s the hippies used a “solar still” to produce water in the deserts of Western America. The concept was simple: place a sheet of glass over a pan of dirty water and place it in the sun. As the dirty water heated up, it evaporated. The vapor condensed on the underside of the cooler, tilted sheet of glass, then ran to the side of the tilt and dripped into a collector. They got a gallon a day for drinking easily, using water that had been used for washing before. The distillate was, of course, pure water.

What can be seen from this short list of devices is that, while we are blessed by being in the best possible location on the planet, we have not taken advantage of that location, either to increase the extent to which we make use of our gifts, or to help the rest of the planet manage its resources. In South Florida, the authorities have encouraged consumers to seek alternatives by creating financial incentives. The use, for example, of alternative power for heating water, which reduces the need for electricity, is rewarded with an additional reduction of the light bill.

There is no doubt that the main reason for our ignoring this great resource is the first cost of the installation. On the other hand, the lenders of money might point out to their clients that the cost of a solar water heater can be written off in a few years, leaving a house with “free” hot water almost forever, a house that would be worth more because its operation would cost less. Solar electricity might be an attractive alternative, even cost-wise, to conventional plant in remote locations in The Bahamas. As noted, the government has already realized that street lights and the like can be run more economically by the sun, and there is no disruption after a hurricane.

A word to the wise.

• Patrick Rahming & Associates is a full-service design firm providing architectural, planning and design services throughout The Bahamas and the northern Caribbean. Visit its website at www.pradesigns.com, design blog at https://rahmblings.wordpress.com and like its Facebook page. The firm can be contacted by phone at 356-9080 or by email at pradesigns@yahoo.com or prahming@gmail.com. The firm’s mission is to help clients turn their design problems into completed projects through a process of guided decision-making, responsible environmental advice and expert project administration.

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