Self Sustainability in Palau: The philosophy of perpetual motion

Koror — Palau is one among many small island states that have been and are still, to some extent, isolated and dependent on imports via air and sea.

Palau is a small nation but it punches well above its weight. Its economy is very strong compared to the FSM and RMI but it is still very dependent on external sources of food, skills, fuel, raw and fabricated materials.

The last 50 years has been very good to Palau. The Compact of Free association enabled Palau to recover after WWII, it has had hundreds of millions of dollars of aid just from this source alone, and probably an equal amount from all the other grants and sponsorships.

But since Jan. 19, this source of income from the U.S seems to be under increasing threat. It’s almost impossible to say how the Trump administration will develop its policies but with a slogan like “America First,” it doesn’t bode well. Indeed after only 60 days even vital public services, cornerstones of academia and environmental regulation are facing unprecedented cuts. So, given that, what should Palau be doing to wean itself from the nurturing teat of U.S. influence and funding?

It should not immediately jump into bed with the first pretty face or fat wallet it sees. I’m talking of course about China. Palau should not be for sale.

Palau is doing things for itself, flying the nest as it were. Standing on its own two feet, cultivating its home grown talent by investing in its education system, so Palauans have the skills necessary to do the jobs currently outsourced to foreigners.

As a foreigner myself it would seem that I’m sawing at the branch I’m sitting on. Let me continue though.

Now more than ever Palau needs to be smart. Look before it leaps, think before it speaks. Build on good relationships and cut out the bad ones.

Self-sustainability does not happen overnight. It is an investment in the future, an investment in education and nurturing of youth through education. This means that the schools need to be improved, the teacher’s salaries increased to attract better teachers, facilities at the schools increased to provide a better environment for learning. A move away from dogmatic religious education and a focus more on sciences and relevant global skills.

Some may say that the U.S. and other sources are already providing huge amounts of funding through the MOE already. If so where is it going? Will it last? More importantly, why are so many Palauans leaving Palau? You cannot hope to keep Palau Palauan if your young talent leaves.

Self-sustainability is a monumental task. This is only going to come about by having the right people in the right job. It cannot happen when the wrong people are in a role because they are related to someone of influence. This is like trying to hammer in a nail with a potato.

Nepotism in Palau has to stop if Palau is to survive. Until you grow your home talent you need to get in the right people for the job, regardless of

where they are from.

You need to kill the xenophobia and corruption within your politics and legal system.

Palau cannot hope to keep what good people it attracts and will never progress and achieve its potential until these fundamental flaws are addressed.

Perpetual energy

To generate electricity, Palau needs to import huge amounts of fossil fuels. Its reliance on them can be dramatically reduced if it looks to investment in alternative energy production.

Palau’s location and geology are perfect for that. Its position so close to the equator makes solar power a no-brainer.

For starters, it takes a lot of energy to heat water. The sun as we know can do that for us for free. Black panel heaters could be installed on every roof of every property that requires hot water. They are affordable and the first step to phasing out unnecessary fuel use and would reduce the demand on the grid hugely.

Allowing for multiple variables puts the cost of heating one tank of water by 40 degrees C at between $3 and $5. So the cost of the equipment and

Installation would be covered in a matter of months.

Many hotels have already invested in self-regulating systems that utilize the sun to heat their water. If this were to be rolled out to households too, the impact on the need for electricity, propane or even firewood would be significant.

For energy production at a national level, technologies useful for that scale already exist and are becoming cheaper all the time.

Given its geographical location and natural topography, Palau should be looking seriously at Tidal and Photovoltaic systems. Photovoltaics or PVs are already found at installations like the track and field, library, airport, Capital Senate building as well as private installations at the department stores downtown. They can be small and decentralized, installations big enough to provide energy for particular processes or needs at a local scale. They can be the size of multiple football fields too if there is space and could provide for entire hamlets.

Tidal systems are newer and more expensive but provide electricity 20 hours a day regardless of whether it’s cloudy or not due to the tide nearly constantly moving. Palau lends itself to this form of production because of its huge number of channels between islands. Think about areas

where water rushes through, under bridges and causeways. Depth of water is one consideration for boat traffic over the installation but given proper surveying, sites can be identified.

Imagine a tidal turbine in the KB channel for instance.

Alternative energy production need not stop there. Waterwheels for households and facilities near rivers, windmills for properties in exposed areas.

All these systems of course need planning, construction and most importantly need maintenance.

Is it inconceivable that these skills be taught in Palau? Is it inconceivable that private or public companies can provide training and employment necessary to build and maintain these energy production systems? Certainly given the employment opportunities available to cater to a whole new industry, investment in this for Palau should be a high priority.

Palau needs engineers, electricians, plumbers, surveyors — and needs the jobs to keep them here.

Alternative energy production replacing the hungry and terminal fossil fuel tradition is a daunting task. If you look at it as a whole it may seem insurmountable and this has played toward the oil industry’s advantage, but the key to success is to chip away at the whole by using multiple

small scale bespoke solutions. A mountain can be leveled with enough people using the right tools. (No potatoes).

There is no denying that a solution must be found. Oil is running out and becoming more expensive by the day and drilling in Kayangel, no matter what anyone tells you will not help.

We need to change the way we think, we need to evolve. Burying our heads in the sand and stubbornly clinging to the way it was, makes no progress and only leaves us exposed.

Individuals and pioneers like Elon Musk have made it their calling to bring (or lead) the World to a plain of understanding that embraces the impossible as possible. Be like Elon.

Richard Brooks owns Lightning Strike Production, which covers everything from underwater to aerials. See his work at www.lightningstrikeproductions.co.uk