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. Second 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. Lindsay 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.

Is the typical pay-back period eight years or does that change with the size of the house?

LS: We estimate it to be eight years for all homes.

 Will the average home owner ever be able to afford a solar electric system?

LS: Average home owners currently are paying CUC on average between CI$500.00 to CI $1000.00 each month for electricity. Rather than continue to make these payments indefinitely to CUC, they should purchase their own solar electric system. If they are not able to afford the initial up front expenses for a solar electric system, they should finance the equipment through a Green Loan at their personal bank. These loans are similar to home equity loans used to finance home renovations. This smarter option will apply these same payments, CI$500.00 to CI$1000.00 dollars each month, towards ownership of a solar electric system. Then after eight years, the loan is paid off and the equipment continues to power the home for another 12 to 17 years at little or no cost to the home owner.

 Is there any upkeep/cost for maintaining the panels?

LS: They just need to be washed off with clear water about every three months to remove dust or salt spray. During the dry season they may need to be cleaned more often. During the rainy season these cleanings should only be necessary every six months.

 What does CUC sell energy for and at what price will they buy it back from customers?

LS: As you know, the cost per kWh fluctuates due to the fuel cost. Over the past 18 months the average cost per kWh is CI $0.3065 or about CI 31 cents. This should give us a good estimate of future cost per kWh, because during this timeframe oil prices were between US$42.00 a barrel to US$162.00 a barrel The current agreement between the ERA and CUC states that the price paid to customers for kWh they return to the grid will be 10.1 cents less than the price the customer pays to CUC for the kWh they receive from the grid.

 Do you have similar projects on the go? What’s interest like from the domestic market?

LS: We have a long list of residential projects and commercial projects. Everyone has been waiting to see if we could actually get a system up and running here in Cayman. Now that Frank’s is completed, others will soon follow. Clients now ready to convert to solar and wind. I am currently building an 8400 square foot home, near the boat launch in South Sound, for a client. It will be completed by spring of 2010 and powered by wind and solar electric systems.

SM: The public has been very responsive to the installation of the PV system in South Sound. People are very curious to know how photovoltaic systems work, how much cost is affiliated with an install and payback time. Within the next few years you will see more of these systems installed without a doubt.

 What is the future for alternative energy sources for Cayman homes?

SM: We still have a way to go. The Caymans have simply scratched the surface as far as moving into alternative energies. Technology is constantly improving and becoming more affordable to the end user. The Caymans have many key players working hard to bring solar and wind energy to our island.

LS: Very bright, because our cost per kWh is three times as much here in Cayman compared to the cost per kWh in the US. That means that a system here in Cayman will pay for itself in one third of the time it takes to pay for the same system in the US.

 How could wind power be a viable alternative energy source, for businesses as well as homes?

SM: Wind power is very much a viable energy source to any resident or business on island. Like solar, certain testing and procedures need to be put into place before installation. Wind turbines have become quieter and more esthetically pleasing in recent years which were major setbacks in the past.

LS: The wind turbines can help power the home/business during the day and after the sun has gone down when the solar array is no longer producing power. In fact, the wind normally picks up speed in the afternoon as the sun is setting and then continues to blow strong during the night

 When do you anticipate bringing in a wind turbine for the house?

LS: Within the next three to four months

 Any other alternative energy method you are looking at?

SM: We encourage anyone who is interested in saving on energy costs to come and speak with us in regards to LED lighting. We recently started carrying a line of LED that can easily be retrofitted into any home or business. The energy savings are remarkable and the payback time is often under two years. The bulbs last 50,000 – 100,000 hours and run cooler than conventional bulbs, thus saving on A/C costs. Any interested party is welcome to contact us if they would like to learn more about solar, wind or LED technologies.

We are also in the development stages for a waste management system that will convert waste into energy, fire protection systems that use bio-degradable foam and a revolutionary soil binding technology that can be used in a variety of applications.