By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
THE Bahamas yesterday achieved a "fairly substantial" milestone by becoming the first Caribbean country outside Jamaica to establish an in-country, internationally recognised certification course for renewable energy installation, via a partnership that also involves BTVI.
The Government-funded Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI) will host a specialist laboratory that will facilitate the training of Bahamians in the installation, and maintenance, of solar photovoltaic (PV) system.
The training operation will be run via a partnership between the Jamaica-based Vector Technology Institute and Alternative Power Sources (Bahamas), a Bahamian renewable energy provider, the goal being to 'Bahamianise' and train a Bahamian labour force that will support the expansion of this nation's fledgling renewable energy industry.
Guilden Gilbert, vice-president of Alternative Power Sources (Bahamas), said: "Our goal as a company is to have a 100 per cent Bahamian workforce, and the only way to do that is to have a trained workforce. The goal for us is to create an educated workforce, and from that hopefully we will create employment."
Alternative Power Sources also has operations in Bermuda and Jamaica, the latter nation being where it first partnered with the Vector Technology Institute to develop certified renewable energy training courses that were internationally recognised.
Mr Gilbert added that Alternative Power Sources was installing solar street and garden lighting in a 1,000-home development in Jamaica, and would also seek to provide funds for apprenticeship-type training programmes in the Bahamas as the demand for solar PV systems grew.
"I think it's fairly substantial," Mr Gilbert said of the Bahamas partnership between Alternative Power Sources (Bahamas) and Vector Technology Institute. "This is the first time outside Jamaica. I'm not aware of any other regional jurisdiction that has an in-country certified training course."
This, Mr Gilbert added, would enable Bahamian technicians to avoid the extra costs and travel associated with going abroad for training. The BTVI-based course, he said, would qualify Bahamians as Certified PV Installers with internationally-recognised certification from the Electronic Technicians Association.
Dr Iva Dahl, BTVI's manager, said the solar PV training programme would enable Bahamians to "become qualified in the installation and maintenance of solar systems".
Training would cover both the theoretical and practical issues of solar PV installation, she added, and the Vector Technology Institute and Alternative Power Sources (Bahamas), through their existing collaboration in Jamaica, were "bringing that model to the Bahamas".
Dr Wayde Marr, the Vector Technology Institute's executive chairman, said its Alternative Power Sources (Bahamas) partner would establish a laboratory at BTVI where the practical training would be held. It is due to be set-up in time for the 2012-2013 educational year begin.
He explained that it was a short-term course, lasting 40 hours only, because it was targeted at the likes of electricians, plumbers and roofing installers - professional tradesmen who were either qualified, or knew about, electrical installation.
"It's a professional development course for persons interested in widening their horizons, and going into solar installation and maintenance," Dr Marr said.
Dr Dahl added that while the solar PV course had yet to be widely marketed, it had attracted interest from participants on BTVI's existing solar technology course. The aim, she added, was to keep the solar PV class sizes small.
Emphasising the importance of renewable energy to the Bahamas' economic future, Dr Marr added: "Our over-reliance on fossil fuels is one issue that governments all around the world are having to face.
"We're looking at a depleting resource, and a fairly unstable resource in terms pricing...... We have this renewable which is abundant. The sun shines on the Bahamas day in, day out. All countries are looking at sustainability."
Dr Marr said embracing renewable energy was vital not just for countries to achieve a comparative advantage, but comparative "parity".
Mr Gilbert, meanwhile, added that the Ministry of Works preferred to have certified installers and licensed electricians working with solar water heater and solar PV systems.
Some 19 solar water heaters had been installed in homes in the Ardastra Gardens subdivision as part of an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) funded project. Alternative Power Sources (Bahamas) had provided the initial training for the contractors and plumbers who installed them.