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By Orville Williams

At least 11 primary and secondary schools are already benefiting from the installation of solar panels, under the Grid Interactive Solar PV Systems for Schools and Clinics (GISS) project.

Minister of Health and the Environment, Molwyn Joseph, made the disclosure yesterday, affirming that the government’s efforts to improve energy resilience were well underway.

“In terms of building resilience in the society, we are focusing on the use of wind and solar energy, solar energy in particular for our schools and our clinics. So far, we have installed several solar panels in primary schools in Antigua and Barbuda and we continue to do so. The last two I think, were [at] Glanvilles and Ottos Comprehensive.

“We have not yet concluded the full supply of energy to those schools, but we have started. I think the target now is 19 schools…but we might have already installed at least nine primary schools with solar energy in Antigua,” he said.

Joseph explained just how the project is benefiting the schools, saying that at Ottos, for example, the administrative section has non-interrupted access to electricity, through the solar panels. This supply, he says, is enough to sustain the block even when the supply from the grid is suppressed.

“All the primary schools we have equipped, so far, have batteries and what happens is, as long as the batteries can supply the electricity, you will not be taking it from the grid. However, when the sun goes down and the energy is used up, you will then have the benefit of getting electricity from APUA. That’s why we say it’s grid-tied.

“In most cases, though, the supply of electricity by solar energy meets the demand of the school for the limited purpose that it is there for,” the minister said.

Meanwhile, clinics on the island – as well as the hospital – will also be beneficiaries under another project, funded by the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

“In terms of the clinics, we have since received a US$32.7 million grant from the GCF, with the matching component coming from the government – about $14 million. What we intend to do with that, is to build resilience in our clinics.

“The money will be used to expand the actual facilities [and] to create shelters. If you imagine that you have a hurricane where you provide shelter at the clinics in Antigua and Barbuda, it gives you the additional benefit of having healthcare workers who are already functioning in that facility, to be there to provide any type of healthcare support to people who are in shelters,” Joseph explained. 

He added that these adjustments would reduce the country’s dependence on one of the traditional shelter practices.

“This takes us away from the practice of using our schools as shelters, which is really not too healthy a thing to do. Imagine if we had a hurricane this season and we had to shelter people in our schools?

“With Covid, it would make things a little more complex, because after the hurricane you would seek to resume school and then you would have the additional problem of Covid being part of the difficulty of creating a healthy environment in the school system,” Joseph said.

The minister also reiterated that within the next three to five years, almost all government buildings – including parliament [and] the prime minister’s office – are targeted to be retrofitted with renewable energy, primarily solar energy.

Additionally, the government is set to begin surveying more than 500 residents this month, as part of the escalating plans to transition the country toward more renewable energy sources.

The Department of Environment will be leading that charge, in assessing the “acceptability and affordability” of renewable energy.

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