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Local Solar-Powered Hydroponics – A First for Atlantic’s Community Environment Programme

Photographed: Atlantic’s Trudy Solomon-Doodnath displays red lettuce leaves produced by the SolarPonix System

Atlantic’s Community Environment Programme has deployed the first working model of a solar-powered hydroponic system using technology invented by Mr. Ancel Bhagwandeen a consulting engineer at the MIC Institute of Technology that constructed the system. It will be a core component of the programme, which teaches secondary school students in Atlantic’s home community of Point Fortin about environmentally responsible agriculture, focusing on protecting ecosystems while nurturing the next generation of farmers and agri-entrepreneurs.

Referred to as the ‘SolarPonix’ system, the prototype received an award from the UNDP Trinidad and Tobago in their Green Innovation Challenge last year, and in June 2022 was handed over to the Atlantic programme for on-farm testing. Powered by a 5-watt solar panel and Li-ion battery, it features climate smart automated ebb and flow pumping cycles which minimize energy use. Compact in design, its vertical layout holds over one hundred planting spots utilizing just one square meter of floor surface. The innovative design incorporates portability, allowing it to be moved easily depending on weather conditions. With the ability to log data over six months with one-hour sampling intervals to gauge temperature, light levels, and electrical conductivity as well as pH of the nutrient solution, this enables experimentation to optimize plant yields.

Trudy Solomon-Doodnath, Sustainability Officer and lead for the Atlantic Community Environment Programme explained the value the system will bring, “The introduction of the ‘SolarPonix’ system firmly complements our new community initiative, teaching our youth how to sustainably produce their own food. By incorporating renewable technology which helps to conserve natural resources, they can become advocates not only for food security but also for clean energy. We are extremely pleased to collaborate with our partners to implement this pioneering project.”

The ‘SolarPonix’ system was tested over a period of two months by Atlantic’s partner organization – programme coordinator and technical consultant at the South West Agricultural Cooperative (SWAC), Monica Lessey. With the support of Mr. Bhagwandeen who completed minor enhancements during the test period to improve the reliability of the model, most of the plants flourished within the solar powered system.

Expressing pride at the application of his creation, Mr. Bhagwandeen said, “We are extremely happy to see the T&T SolarPonix invention benefit its first customer, the Atlantic Community Environment Programme, a partnership of the South West Agricultural Cooperative and a joint thrust into renewable energy based, sustainable agriculture for our nation’s youth. This combined effort demonstrates how a T&T concept transformed into a unique, portable system delivering affordable, energy efficient, indigenous food security and youth entrepreneurship opportunities. This collaboration will result in benefits to the health and wellbeing of our society and is an example of sterling corporate social responsibility by Atlantic, the S.W.A.C. and the MIC Institute of Technology.”

The ‘SolarPonix’ units will be installed in five participating secondary schools in Atlantic’s home community in the new school term, when a new cohort of participants will be inducted. Atlantic’s environmental initiatives represent one the company’s strategic focus areas within its corporate social responsibility portfolio, which in addition to imparting conservation values though sustainable community-based initiatives, seeks to create awareness of renewable technologies.