Now that the revised Consumer-Owned Renewable Energy programme has had time to settle in, along with its new Feed-in Tariff, service providers of solar systems have been working hard to get as many interested people on board to move the Islands forward to a more sustainable way of creating and consuming energy.
Grand Cayman’s electricity provider CUC has recently upped the ante in the green stakes by introducing a Feed In Tariff incentive programme for consumers to be paid to produce their own electricity via solar and wind. Ever since the announcement came in February, solar companies on Grand Cayman have been busy speaking with prospective clients who have, up until that point, sat on the sidelines waiting for such a financial incentive to install solar and generate their own electricity.
Even with this new incentive programme, there has been much discussion about the Feed In Tariff, which some say only works in the consumers’ favour now (CUC pay 37 cents for every kWh generated, the consumer pays just 30 cents per kWh back), but will work in CUC’s favour when oil prices eventually rise.
“We have to stop worrying about this 37 cents rate,” James Piper, managing director with Mega Systems, says. “Even if CUC increases the price to 50 cents that the consumer has to pay, you are better off receiving 37 cents back than nothing. And in any case there would have to be considerable pressure to increase oil prices to such a high.”
Installing a solar system is not cheap and therefore getting payback for your investment in as short a time frame as possible has been the goal of the likes of Mega Systems. It has been working in conjunction with construction specialist Lindsay Scott from LAS Development to ensure costs for the consumer are kept to a minimum and anticipates payback should be reached after seven to eight years.
In order to generate electricity from the sun, a succession of glass solar panels are fitted to face south for maximum exposure and create electricity, which is then fed onto the main electricity grid. The trailblazer for such technology is the Frank Banks house on South Sound. Banks, who passed away, pioneered the use of solar energy to power his home even before the financial incentive came in force, using around 1,260 square feet of solar panels that sit on a specially constructed pergola at the side of the home.
Scott is planning his own solar installation and estimates he will need around 1,000 square feet of solar panels in order to create enough electricity to power his newly built 3,000-square-foot house in South Sound. He estimates the system will cost between $45,000 and $50,000 to install.
Russ Bunton, owner at Mega Systems, says there are various ways in which the panels can be fitted.
“We normally suggest that the home owner build a pergola perhaps around their pool, or over their car, which doubles up as a shady area as well as the infrastructure for the solar panels,” he explains. “We prefer not to install solar panels actually on roofs of homes because maintenance takes place every two months and access is easier if the panels are on a separate structure. It’s also safer for our employees and more stable during bad weather.”
Scott says such a structure is not expensive to build and can be factored in at the design stage. As he has a good amount of space around his property, he anticipates building his 1,000-square-foot pergola on the south side of his home.
Scott’s own home employs the latest technology when it comes to energy efficiency, including construction out of insulated foam blocks, a fully insulated roof, a heat exchange system, a high energy efficient a/c system and energy efficient appliances throughout the home.
“Getting your energy consumption down as low as possible is the first step to thinking about installing solar,” he says. “Once you have reduced your consumption the amount of solar array panels is naturally reduced to meet your lower demands, which means lower cost.”
Mega Systems can perform an energy audit on a property to assist homeowners in reducing their electricity consumption.
Chris Ferrer from Mega Systems says there are plenty of ways to reduce energy consumption. As well as looking at insulation of the property, they may also suggest better shading of windows, energy efficient lighting and ensuring that lights, fans and other appliances are switched off when not in use.
“Normally after five to seven years most units are ready to be replaced,” Ferrer explains. “So if your a/c system is coming to the end of its life it is worth considering a high energy efficient replacement, especially if you are looking at installing solar arrays.”
Loans, insuranceand maintenance
Scott says that recent discussions have taken place with local insurance companies, including Sagicor, Fidelity and Island Heritage, to see how such new infrastructure will be insured.
Insurers are receptive to the idea of including solar array infrastructure as part of home insurance,” he says. “It’s viewed the same as a/c condensers that sit on the outside of a house. The insurers do require a homeowner to advise them of the value of the solar technology so that they can factor that into their overall policy for the homeowner.”
Insurance is important when it comes to applying for a loan for the solar equipment.
Regular maintenance is essential because solar panels need to be regularly cleaned to ensure they have maximum exposure to the sun, otherwise their performance can be impaired. Mega Systems therefore undertakes maintenance every two months, also checking for loose connections and any other hindrances to performance, such as tree and vegetation growth near the panels.
The Mega Systems team and Lindsay Scott agree that it is most important to encourage as many would-be users as possible to jump on board and make the investment in solar array. In that way prices are driven down as suppliers can order in bulk and, perhaps even more importantly, solar users then have a voice with government when they reach a critical mass.
“The FIT is just a pilot programme currently offered by CUC and subject to change at the end of the initial period,” Scott says. “We would have a much bigger voice with which to negotiate with the Electricity Regulatory Authority (which regulates the industry) once that initial period is over to ensure that the consumer is properly protected going forward. We can only do that if everyone who says they are interested gets on board.”