IMechE and APETT host first Global Engineering Debate in the Americas

Adriana Khudan

The Region's first Global Engineering Debate is jointly hosted by the IMechE and APETT in Trinidad

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers fourth Global Engineering Debate (GED) was held  at the Association of Professional Engineers in Trinidad and Tobago (APETT) Annual Technical Conference 2015 in Trinidad on June 26 2015 and was the first of its kind to be held in the Americas by the Institution. 

The GED is an initiative launched by the IMechE in 2015 and test events were held in the UK, Hong Kong and Singapore previously.

The theme of APETT’s conference this year was “Engineering for Sustainable Development in the Caribbean.” As such, the debate topic carried a similar theme. The 2 young, mechanical engineers-to-be were asked to debate on the topic: ‘Should Trinidad and Tobago invest in renewable energy for electrical generation’.

Chairing and moderating the time for the debate, was IMechE Americas Region Chair Eng. Dr. Anthony Green. The audience of experienced engineers and engineering students were polled before the debate. 39 members were ‘for’ investing, 3 were ‘against’ investing and 30 were undecided.

The two debaters were very eager to start the debate. Engineering student Ms. Shreedevi Sahadeo was ‘for’ and student Ms. Leanda Bidaisee was ‘against’. Ms. Sahadeo started the proceedings first with definitions of sustainability and renewable energy (RE) and then proceeded to enlighten the audience, who were predominantly engineers from Trinidad and Tobago about the fact that other Caribbean islands, such as Grenada and Jamaica have already started to get onboard to using RE so why not T&T as well.

Ms. Bidaisee started her opening statement saying that switching to RE would be an expensive transition since we will not only have to invest in entirely new technology but also in our society. The latter being an expensive venture seeing as a lot of people within our society need to first be introduced to RE and trained about it before it can be a sustainable venture.

Her opponent, Ms. Sahadeo responded with her rebuttal that Trinidad &Tobago's reserves will possibly only last one more generation, therefore, instead of waiting till the time where we have no other choice than to make the transition, she recommended that we slowly transition across to using the new RE technologies. Consequently there wouldn’t be a large immediate cost to the transition and we will be able to start investing now rather than later.

Debaters Ms. Shreedvi Sahadeo (left) and Ms. Leanda Bidaisee (right)

The use of RE is intermittent, therefore, the amount of energy we can get out of using these technologies would fluctuate throughout the day and thus it may not be enough to sustain the population. This was the argument brought forward by Ms. Bidaisee. Whilst she did state solutions to this challenge, she noted that due to the economics of Trinidad &Tobago and the reluctance of the society to change, overcoming this challenge would be no easy feat.

Again, her opponent stressed the need to start investing on the basis of Research and Development of these RE technologies in order to optimize returns in the long run. Additionally, she suggested that we start educating the public about REs, to allow a smoother transition. 

Ms. Sahadeo closing argument was that there are a lot of companies that are very willing to help the integration of RE systems into Trinidad &Tobago either by being a supplier or by incorporating these technologies into their buildings. Furthermore, she stated that space and the effect to wildlife shouldn’t be a problem since panels and windmills can be placed on the under-utilized roofs of buildings.

Ms. Bidaisee’s closing argument against investing in RE technologies for electricity generation were the issues of the threat integration of these technologies to Trinidad &Tobago's ecosystems and the high starting and operational costs of RE technology. After the debate was concluded, members of the audience were given the opportunity to give their insight about the topic and voice their queries to both the debaters and the other members of the audience. A question posed by an audience member, Eng. Frances Lum Young to Ms. Sahadeo was how will we be able to depend on RE, such as solar energy, at night when we do not have sunshine. In addition, how will we safely dispose of the batteries we use to store energy if we decide to use this way for energy use at night? Ms. Sahadeo suggested switching to using wind energy at night as an alternative, whereas, Eng. Richard Ross, another member of the audience, suggested that we can use a combined energy system whereby we use energy from fossil fuels when RE is unavailable.

Eng. Dr. George Sammy, an attendee at the conference, noted that Trinidad &Tobago should be researching RE for other Caribbean countries since as it stands; Trinidad &Tobago is unlikely to need it at present. Ms. Bidaisee, however, noted that Trinidad &Tobago nationals have adapted to a life of using fossil fuels and as we use too much energy on a regular basis, our lifestyles are not friendly to the use of RE. Following those two comments, Ms. Sahadeo reaffirmed that research needs to be done for our future generations

She agreed with Eng. Dr. Sammy that research should be done for the rest of the Caribbean but emphasized the need for research in Trinidad &Tobago.

The last comment from the audience was made by Conference Chair Eng. Fazir Khan, who reiterated the need to start research and development. He stated that we should look to explore technologies based on the needs of the other countries thereby we would be better equipped to help them.

At the end of the question and answer session, the audience was again polled. 52 members were for, 11 were against and 9 were undecided. The debate was considered a success based on its aim of getting the RE conversation started.

Find out more about the Global Engineering Debate or read all about the other activities which are being held by the Institution's other activities in Trinidad and Tobago


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