Green revolution sweeps Cayman

The headline might appear rather attention-grabbing but important changes are never-the-less taking place within this small community that show a real awakening by the country at large to the necessity of understanding, mitigating and adapting to climate change via the use of alternative energy sources. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull speaks with the experts who worked on Cayman’s first fully solar powered home and finds out how this project has set the lead for the rest of Cayman to follow. First in a two-part series.

Frank Banks, who sadly passed away last month, had been a pioneer within the field of sourcing alternative energy to power his South Sound home, having planned the installation of such a far-sighted system at the concept stage of his dream home. Working alongside Lindsay Scott of LAS Development and also the team of professionals at Mega Systems, Banks was able to create the first fully solar powered home in the Cayman Islands. Scott and Scott Murray, sales administrator with Mega Systems, explain how the project came about and what this means for the development of alternative energy in Cayman.

Can you please give me some background to the Frank Banks house project?

LS: I built Frank’s home for him in 2005/2006. At that time he wanted to install a solar electric system to power the home, but back then there were too many obstacles that prevented homeowners from using solar electric systems to power their homes. First of all, the equipment was not as advanced as it is now. Secondly, Cayman’s sole electricity provider, CUC, did not allow homeowners to tie into the grid and lastly there were no policies or procedures written by the Planning Department to oversee the approval process and the inspection process of solar electric systems. Over the past three years, solar equipment manufacturers have drastically improved the efficiency of the panels and invertors. Cayman’s government has recognised solar as a viable alternative energy source and CUC has agreed to allow homeowners to send excess power into the grid. 

How did the idea of a fully solar powered home come about and what was your involvement?

LS: Frank always wanted to ensure that his new home would not place any additional burden on our environment and he wanted to minimise his personal carbon footprint. When all the facts discussed above fell into place, Frank then asked me to convert his home into a home completed powered by solar.

SM: Mega Systems was involved in the installation and design modification of Frank Banks photovoltaic system. We help co-ordinate between the Electricity Regulatory Authority, CUC, BCU, engineers and the client. We materialised the job from concept to design and executed the installation.

What kind of system was installed?

SM: This is a 17.2 kW system with 84 205W panels. Three arrays each comprised of two circuits (14 panels each), three inverters and an SMA Sunny Boy 7000 with max DC input of 17.2 kW. When tested on an overcast day the system ran at 80 per cent efficiency and could easily go to 85 per cent under ideal conditions.

Hw does the solar power technology actually work?

LS: Photons in sunlight hit the solar panel and are absorbed by semi conducting materials, such as silicon. Electrons (negatively charged) are knocked loose from their atoms, allowing them to flow through the material to produce electricity. Due to the special composition of solar cells, the electrons are only allowed to move in a single direction. The complementary positive charges that are also created (like bubbles) are called holes and flow in the direction opposite of the electrons in a silicon solar panel. An array of solar cells converts solar energy into a usable amount of direct current (DC) electricity.

How was the concept received by CUC and government departments?

SM: The BCU was very perceptive and even organised a PV conference late last year. The CUC has been very helpful in releasing pertinent information on how to safely hook up to their grid. All parties are very much involved and are working hard to make renewable energy a part of Cayman.

What was the time frame from initial idea to flicking on the switch?

SM: Frank’s material was bought about a year ago and due to certain hurdles to overcome it just got installed recently. Once we were given the go-ahead, it took just under two weeks to install.

What was the initial cost for the panels/structure?

LS: Frank has been paying CUC around CI$14,000.00 per year to provide him with electricity. At this fixed rate he would expect to spend at least CI $112,000.00 over the next eight years and as we know CUC rates will not be fixed over the next eight years. We were able to purchase and install his system for less than this amount. After year eight, or sooner, his system will be paid for and it will continue to produce power for his home from year nine through year 20 or 25, at little or no cost.

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Next month read about the payback period for investing in solar, and we take a look at the future for alternative energy in the Cayman Islands.

Hot off the press: Frank’s system was finally energised on Tuesday 28 April at 1:30 pm. Lindsay Scott says, “By 1:45 pm it was producing 18 kWh. The system was designed to produce 17 kWh, so we are very happy with these results.”