The ceremony was less than “historic,” but marked a minor milestone as Cuba’s first electric car was handed over in Havana on March 17 to its Guyana Embassy owners by Cayman Automotive’s John Felder.

Felder’s U.S.-based Premier Automotive Export subsidiary of Cayman Automotive shipped the US-built, four-door Nissan Leaf to Havana in late February, abiding by the terms of the four-year license issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce‘s Bureau of Industry and Security authorizing Felder to ship American-built cars to the island state. Nissan builds eight models, including its electric-powered Leaf, in Tennessee and Mississippi.

The commerce department license was the first for a U.S. car company in more than 50 years, coming in the wake of Washington’s recognition of the Havana government in December 2014, and boosting Felder’s profile both regionally and locally.

He plans to send two more EVs to the Guyana Embassy and hopes to send them directly to the South American nation in the near future. Meanwhile, he has discussed EVs with eight more Cuba-based embassies and has provided a leasing quote to the Mexicans.

Cayman impact

It is in Cayman, however, that he has had his greatest impact through his George Town-based Cayman Automotive, trading largely in U.S., Japanese and Chinese trucks and cars since 2005.

In 2009, he became Cayman’s sole electric-vehicle dealer, selling the first “EV” to Camana Bay and installing almost a dozen-and-a-half charging stations across Grand Cayman, where he has put 52 electric cars on the roads. Another 15 gas-electric hybrids also ply the streets.

Camana Bay’s two-position charging station – outside Bay Market – is partially fueled by solar panels, but form only a tiny part of the development’s 11 Town Centre rooftop arrays.

The latest adorns the four-story, 86,000-square-foot office-and-retail block at One Nexus Way. Scheduled to open in the autumn, it is a twin to the adjacent 18 Forum Lane, which opened in January 2016.

The 100 kilowatt array atop the new building – like that next door – is linked to Caribbean Utilities Company’s Consumer Owned Renewable Energy program by which CORE customers sell to CUC all their solar- or wind-generated electricity, then buy it back at discounted rates as needed.

Nexus Way supplies its own hot water and boasts a 50,000-gallon rainwater cistern. Both it and its Forum Lane neighbor are certified “gold” by the U.S.-based Green Building Council under its “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” program, created in 1998 to promote efficient use of resources, particularly energy and water. The council issues LEED ratings on four levels: certified, silver, gold and platinum.

Energy efficiency

According to the website, One Nexus Way “will be one of the most energy-efficient commercial buildings of the region.”

Forum Lane, in fact, was the first mixed-use commercial building in the Caribbean to achieve LEED gold; Nexus Way will attract a similar rating; Camana Bay’s 68,000-square-foot, five-story 94 Solaris Avenue gained a LEED “certified” rating at its May 2012 opening.

In November, Dart Realty opened Cayman’s newest – and LEED silver – luxury hotel the 266-room, 62-residence Kimpton Seafire Resort and Spa.

Geothermal air conditioning cools residences and rooms, while a 143,000 watt, 469-panel CORE-linked rooftop solar array supplies most hotel needs.

Savings between 50 percent and 80 percent of standard lighting costs are achieved with 7,500 LED bulbs, while two 30,000-liter cisterns collect rainwater, augmented by a ground-level reverse-osmosis desalinazation system.

Camana Bay has no monopoly on LEED certification and solar arrays, however. A plethora of private homes, commercial buildings and government offices bear LEED ratings and solar installations.

REMAX Partner Michael Joseph lists 16 LEED homes in Cayman, nine either completed or under construction, and seven more in design.

Another six commercial structures, he says, are LEED certified, including the 150,000-square-foot, $85 million Government Administration Building, which opened in March 2012 with Cayman’s first LEED designation – silver – and Mary Street’s Arch & Godfrey construction-company headquarters, which earned the island’s first commercial “platinum” award last year.

LEED or not, most energy-efficient homes have been built by Endless Energy’s Jim Knapp and Greentech’s James Whittaker, also chairman of the Cayman Islands Renewable Energy Association.

Naul Bodden’s NCB Group, while not formally working to LEED mandates, has pursued comparable standards, building a dozen residential and commercial projects employing solar generation, often augmented by bill-busting geothermal cooling systems that last as long as two decades – and, saliently, keep heavy equipment out of the George Town landfill.

Knapp’s own home was the first in the Cayman Islands to go “off-grid,” generating enough power through its 80 panels and 72 storage batteries to enable him to sever connections with CUC and its national transmission and distribution network.

He has designed installations for homes in South Sound and Parkland Close, and took NCB’s Cayman Technology Centre off grid, the first in the Caribbean and the second in the Western Hemisphere – after a building in Seattle, Washington.

“It has 1,427 solar panels for the four buildings, 33,000 square feet, and 400 kilowatts of zinc-bromide battery storage,” says John van Ryswyk, owner of GeoCayman, NCB’s geothermal contractor. The center, he says, demands “about half” the 1.98 megawatts to 2.2 megawatts generated daily by the solar system, saving CTC’s Security Centre anchor tenant – occupying 16,000 square feet – $15,000 in monthly electric bills between solar generation and geothermal cooling.

NCB recently employed a “sustainability coordinator,” Steven Schiffbauer, who says the two systems have achieved efficiencies that mean “we are now past the point of viability, and are now profitable.”

Van Ryswyk rejects criticism that subterranean geothermal systems can only achieve cooling commensurate with Cayman’s 75-degree ground temperature, pointing to NCB’s Jacques Scott warehouse refrigerators.

“Heat always goes to cool,” he says. “You only need a temperature differential.”

“Geo” systems essentially work by removing warm air and sending it through a series of underground pipes set in an “s” configuration. Their interface with Cayman’s high water table and porous limestone substrate quickly wicks away heat, returning cool air to the building.

NCB’s Crystal Harbour developments include Cypress Pointe’s 19 residences – with Cayman’s first home-geothermal system – and Cypress Pointe North’s 38 residences, each with geothermal and between 62 solar panels and 88 solar panels.

The 26-townhouse Solara, adjacent to Cypress Pointe, and South Sound’s 24-condo Tides also incorporate solar and geo along with PEX piping –flexible polyurethane tubing and conduit replacing traditional, and highly toxic, polyvinyl chloride plumbing – and insulated concrete forms, an interlocking system of walls, floors and roofs creating a sort of sealed box that keeps out heat and preserves cooling.

ICF construction is integral to energy efficiency, says Whittaker, who designed Savannah’s “Sailfish,” the first LEED-certified home in the world, built in 2011 after GBC’s 2010 selection of Cayman, Saudi Arabia, India and China for its international pilot program for residential structures.

“It was a coup that we got ahead. We started right away building Sailfish,” Whittaker says.

He also designed Bella Verde, Dart Realty’s LEED-gold home in Salt Creek. Construction started in 2014 on the 6,920-square-foot, five-bedroom, two-level home, achieving energy savings of nearly 70 percent compared to similar, more-traditional houses.

In 2015, Bella Verde won the Governor’s Award for Sustainability, and subsequently sold just prior to completion

ICF, Whittaker says, is essential to a “good sustainable design,” which he calls “80 percent of the battle.” The right “box” – roofs, walls, windows and doors – yields almost zero energy consumption; is 95 percent free of indoor – and carcinogenic – “volatile organic compounds” such as pastes, glues, plaster, stucco and adhesives; largely eliminates ventilation to the outside – particularly near roads; filters water to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, particularly for chlorine content; and eliminates PVC pipes as far as possible.

No electricity bills

He also retrofitted George Town’s Arch & Godfrey office, which, since its 2016 LEED-platinum certification, has “never paid an electricity bill.”

“In fact,” he says, “negative $15 was his [Managing Director Garth Arch’s] last bill,” meaning CUC has paid the company for its CORE-generated power.

“Garth’s house,” Mr. Whittaker said, “is at zero electricity now,” compared with an annual bill as high as $10,000 for a conventional home.

According to the company’s website, the building started as a 100-year-old Caymanian wooden cottage … completely restored [using] all original materials … Features include the highest-efficiency solar system by SunPower, high energy-efficiency ratings, natural lighting, native landscaping and structural integrity to withstand Category 5 hurricanes.”

On April 10, local solar generation will hit a landmark as CUC and its North Carolina-based Entropy Investment Management partner turn on the first of five sections of Bodden Town’s 21,690-panel, 5 megawatt utility-scale “farm,” Cayman’s first.

Proceeding one week at a time, planners will finish commissioning the $6 million farm at the end of the month, pumping clean power into Cayman’s T&D grid, capping six years of sometimes-tortuous effort.

The Electricity Regulatory Authority and CUC initially sought 13 MW of renewable energy in August 2011, only naming two U.S.-based winners 26 months later.

The Chicago company subsequently dropped out, triggering a renewed selection process, while the Pittsburgh company sold its interest to Entropy, which formed local affiliate Entropy Cayman Solar Ltd.

Price negotiations dragged until Oct. 30, 2015, followed by U.S. financing problems that delayed the start of construction from Oct. 2016 until late-February 2017.

Built by local contractors Clan Construction and Mega Systems – with a small role for both Knapp and Whittaker – and managed by Gene Thompson, director of the Thompson Development Group and East End’s Health City Cayman Islands, and Ryan Smith, HCCI construction and facilities manager, the 22-acre Bodden Town array is at last largely complete.

CUC has finished its interconnection facility, enabling grid access to Entropy’s 5 MW of solar power, which it will sell to CUC at 17 cents per kilowatt hour. CUC will add its own base rate – approximately 10 cents per kWh – to Entropy, bringing consumer costs to 27 cents, comparable to diesel-generated rates of 25 cents.

Meanwhile, Thompson and Ryan are building a four-acre HCCI solar array, scheduled to start “by the end of the summer, maybe September,” Ryan says. In a quid pro quo with Entropy, the two are working with the U.S. company’s managing partner David March.

“It’s in the design stage right now, and we’re doing legislation and contracts,” Ryan said, estimating “another two months to complete the load profile and final design.

“We need a building permit and that probably takes two-and-a-half months, so we’re pushing [to finish] by the end of the year.”

The array will produce 0.75 MW, cost $1 million to build and require “seven years to pay back.” It will not be linked to CORE, Thompson says, hinting at a looming dispute with CUC.

“All the power goes straight into the hospital,” he says, indicating, however, the 0.75 MW may not slake the hospital’s thirst for power, requiring the utility to play a role. Air conditioning, for example, is among any hospital’s chief expense and HCCI’s salt-water-based cooling system remains some years distant.

Thompson declined to elaborate, but the complexities were recently compounded when CUC announced CORE had reached its 6 MW cap, leaving unclear the future of the scheme. Its 331 connected customers – and another 186 still deploying generation systems – will generate 5.88 MW, leaving little room for addition.

Last week, CUC said it had “declared” a renewable-energy portfolio of 17 MW, with 6 MW for CORE and another 5 MW for Entropy.

“The remainder of the portfolio and how it is assigned, is under discussion with OffReg,” Cayman’s new Utility Regulation and Competition Office, a spokesman said.

“CUC expects that with the results of its Integrated Resource Plan in the next few months, it will be in a position to deploy strategies and programs to increase the portfolio substantially from 17 MW.”

On Sept. 1, the company announced an 18-week “IRP,” a consultant-led study described by Vice President for Customer Services and Technology Sacha Tibbetts as an effort “to analyze all energy resources that are viable and [to] consider their cost, reliability, environmental impact and other aspects,” yielding “a recommended portfolio of energy resources for the market.”

The 30-year forecast would ensure “all energy options were explored” as CUC decided what the grid could accommodate “in a safe, reliable and efficient manner,” positioning the company “to better understand the needs of the community” ensuring it had “the right energy resource mix for the future,” according to a Sept. 1 statement.

CUC said last week, however, that Virginia-based Pace Global Energy Services had missed the mid-January deadline. A spokeswoman was unable to predict when the study would finish.

“The consultants are still working,” she said. Since September, they had “participated in two public consultations and plan to have a third one before they present their findings to CUC.”

“As soon as I have the dates,” said, “I will let you know.”