In this feature, we present Roger Blackman to the CARICOM Energy Personality Series.
With a personal story and professional life that paints a prototypical picture of regional interconnectivity, the life’s work of Roger Blackman is one that truly represents the limitless potential of the Caribbean as it relates to sustainable development. As the Managing Director of Barbados Light & Power (BL&P), he has successfully dedicated his expertise in the field of electricity and energy efficiency to improve the lives of Barbadians for the last 30 years – and that’s just one layer to this dynamic executive’s reach. From EV Fleets to Solar Farms, transportation to technology, wind to wire, Blackman has demonstrated an incisive vision in working towards the ambitious target of achieving 100% renewable energy operations island-wide by 2030. Undoubtably, it’s a goal that requires massive community buy-in and demands collective action from both the residential and corporate communities in the most Easterly island in the Caribbean. Together with a team of experts committed to the cause and a series of programs to encourage carbon-neutrality, Blackman intends to light the path, guide rapid change and lead the way into sustainable living for citizens.
It’s no coincidence that Barbadian born-and-raised Roger Blackman left the parish of Christ Church, Barbados to begin his tertiary-level academic interests in the neighbouring twin-island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. “My mother was from St. James and my father was from Woodbrook. My father’s father was from Barbados, and my Dad had the opportunity to come here and work and raise a family,” he fondly reminisced of his Trinbagonian-born parents. Attending the University of the West Indies St. Augustine Campus to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering, Caribbean community living quickly became an integral part of Blackman’s overall development and approach to his career. “Apart from a few years in Trinidad studying and a couple of years in Nova Scotia where I worked with the energy holding company Emera, the rest of my career has been pretty much here on the island,” he noted. Of his beautiful homeland – known for its picturesque, award-winning beaches that have been a tourist attraction for decades – Blackman is quite the patriot in recognizing the unique qualities of his island. “For one, Barbados isn’t as volcanic as most of our close neighbouring islands – we’re very flat, which is pretty similar in topography to The Bahamas. Also, because of our corals, I think we have some of the best beaches in the world, though some of my colleagues and friends in other Caribbean islands may disagree,” he laughed. Driven by a love for technology, he joined Barbados Light & Power as a training engineer almost three decades ago, at which point he says the rest is history. “It’s a pleasure to work with friends and schoolmates; it’s a small island and a small region so I’m regularly coming into contact with people that I studied with or interacted with in another work-related sphere. It’s also an opportunity to give back for all that the Caribbean and Barbados has afforded me. I get to enjoy the best of two worlds – Trinidad and Barbados – which has given me free tertiary education, free movement across the islands and to help lead change within the region,” Blackman explained.
The Caribbean also offers many unique challenges in the energy industry, and Roger Blackman is no stranger to these obstacles, as an active Board Director of Dominica Electricity Services (DOMLEC), St. Lucia Electricity Services (LUCELEC) and the Caribbean Electricity Utility Services Corporation (CARILEC). “Designing for natural hazards – for example, small non-interconnected grids, struggling with scaling economies, a high dependence on fossil fuel – all help to keep us on our toes and make the industry all the more exciting,” he revealed, also noting that the consequences to facing these challenges is coming up with homegrown solutions to meet the evolving needs of the sector. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the daily demands of the CEO hat at Barbados Light & Power are quite extensive. “Like the other utilities, we are a 24-hour operation, so my team is always on the ground – whether working in the power plants, in the fields tending to customers’ needs,” he noted. As a result, his day often begins before 5:00am with a check-in call for direct reports with various managers that lead a number of areas within the organization. The team dynamic is critical in the way that Blackman is able to operationalize and strategize for optimal efficiency, since the needs can change ever so quickly. “Fortunately for us in Barbados, we have a very well-educated population, so we’ve been able to attract really talented employees and staff who are very committed to the job; across the board they enjoy the national service that comes with working in a sector such as this,” the CEO explained.
This growing demand for customer-owned systems in the renewable energy sector have propelled new interests and initiatives, such as EV Fleets and Solar Farms – part of a systemic plan of multilaterals that work hand-in-hand with new technologies, drives public awareness and shapes consumer demand in the island. Barbados Light & Power has worked alongside BYD and Megapower on a public transportation project which launched 33 new electric buses in August 2020 – which is in addition to over 500 electric vehicles currently in operation on the island. Blackman, through his team’s work at the BL&P, has also facilitated a partnership with Barbados Blackbelly Sheep Association International, who are now in charge of vegetation control at a multi-acre solar farm. With an omnipresent theme of public-private partnerships, indigenous sources of energy such as solar and wind have played a major role towards the transitioning to more environmentally friendly energy options and the diversification of cleaner and ‘greener’ living for citizens. “Partnerships are critical; often times you can find win-win and the project economics are absolutely important in terms of the practicability of solutions,” he explained. It’s a required 360-degree buy-in, Blackman explains, articulating that as the technologies began to improve and the running cost dropped in price, the team noticed an increase in public onboarding for the initiatives. While electric and solar initiatives have taken off, wind energy is still a work in progress. “We’ve been working on wind for a long time, for the better part of a decade or more, and certainly have been working towards making our wind farm a reality by doing feasibility studies and gathering data,” he clarified. “We are now going through a public consultation process. The site is in the north of the island, called Lambert’s Wind Farm and was one of the most attractive sites for wind energy development on the island that meets the setbacks requirement (distance from residences).” Other programs have been well-received, such as the smart energy LED program to switch out 24,000 high-pressure streetlights – another initiative which is on target for completion this year to improve on island-wide, cost-efficient services.
Together with a community of qualified professionals, Blackman’s ability to meet consumers where they are in every aspect of their daily living – transportation, farming, home, finances, health and safety – brings to light a need to involve every member of the Barbadian community to play his/her role, particularly in targeting the youth who shape national development through their habits. “We have been proud of our strategy all around, because we can only achieve these ambitious goals by 2030 collaboratively – and therefore we have sought to work with members of civil society such as the Barbados Renewable Energy Association, the Ministry of Energy to educate the public and formulate the policies that assist with the clean energy transition,” he said. The BL&P team has also worked closely with schools to promote energy conservation, to inspire students to be creative and inventive with renewable energy. One competition, called Electricity and the Renewable Energy Science Exposition, was launched jointly with the Ministry of Education in 2015. “We targeted both the primary and secondary schools, and that has gone extremely well – as a matter of fact, we’ve had a past winner who went on to commence a graduate degree program in Renewable Energy. So, we’re starting to see the fruits of that type of work,” he noted.
Roger Blackman’s vision for leadership has certainly taken into profound consideration an interweaving of innovation and resilience for the benefit of the Barbadian people. For the CEO and Managing Director, the recognition as a CARICOM Energy Personality for 2020 is a welcomed opportunity to share more knowledge and to join forces with his colleagues across the region to help with the transition in sustainable development. “Certainly, I’m looking forward to continue helping to shape the island’s energy transition and operating alongside the capable team that I have the honour of working with at Barbados Light & Power in doing my part in whatever way to elevate practices of energy efficiency and sustainable energy here on the island and throughout the region.”
This article is part of the CARICOM Energy Personality Series, an activity of CARICOM Energy Month 2020 and is produced by the CARICOM Energy Unit, the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE), and the European Union (EU) and the German Federal Ministry of Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ) funded, Technical Assistance Programme for Sustainable Energy in the Caribbean (TAPSEC). The series aims to give recognition to regional energy champions who have made exceptional contributions in the areas of renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy access, resilience, and rural electrification throughout the Caribbean Community. To read more features within the series, please visit us at https://energy.caricom.org.