Key to cheaper electricity

Net metering could soon slash electricity costs, if adopted by CUC…

This is a big if as whilegovernmentin the final phase of negotiating a new non-exclusive contract with CUC,metering does notto be onagenda or under considerationpresent. It would be adisservice to the Cayman Islands residents if a comprehensive net metering agreement were notpart of this contract,this is the key to much lower electricity ratesa guarantee that CUC would be compelled to seek ever cheaper means of producing electrical power in future.

Net metering is used most often in conjunction with solar panels (Photovoltaic, or PV for short) and, while the price of diesel fuel to power CUC’s generators keeps n soaring, the cost of solar electricity is plunging, thanks to new technologies and efficiencies of scale. This Website, provides a clear explanation and sketches:

Net metering allows your electricity meter to spin forward when electricity flows into your building and also backwards when your PV system produces a surplus of electricity that is not immediately used. Your meter will add up all of those additions and deductions like a calculator. Your excess electricity is banked on the utility grid. You can use an equivalent amount of electricity later without cost to you. All utilities in the state of California are required to offer owners of PV systems the option of interconnecting with the electrical power grid on a net-metering basis.

Using solar panelseconomicallyifownerallowed to usemetering to feedelectrical power produced during the day into the gridit is reverse meteredeither boughtor credited toward future consumption. During night time, when solarare non productive,then drawn from the gridbilled at the usual rate or exchanged for the kilowatts-hour saved during the day. It is essential to establishbuy-backexchange formulas in the new contract with CUC, as there are several distinct possibilities:exchange kWh for kWh, plus a bonus, as is customaryGermany; straight exchange kWh for kWh, as practiced in California; or more likely in Cayman’s case, a price reflecting CUC’s production cost, say 2/3 of the retail price, for instance.

Having spoken to Mr Richard Hew, president of CUC recently on this issue,kindly indicated that he sees little difficulty innet metering, provided that safety measures are in place to prevent back-feeding electricity into the grid when the powerare de-energizedrepairs andlong as the quality of the current produced is compatiblethat of CUC. There are no technological hurdles to meet such requirements, which aredifferent thanofthe American utilitiesalready accommodate net metering.

When the cost of solar panels comes down to around $1 per Watt,expenditure of between $4,000and $5,000 would be sufficient tomost of the electrical needs of an average home, provided the day time surplus can be traded with CUC at a fairthrough net metering and a three to four yearscould reasonably beIn addition, the provision of a battery bank and regulator would allow the homeowner to be self-sufficient for his basic electrical needs (refrigeration, lights, cooking, fans, etc.)the event of a hurricanethe distribution system, leaving residents without electricityweeks at a time, as happened after Ivan. Furthermore, using renewable energyproduce electricityhomeno impact on the environment – no generator noise and dangerous fumesand there arelines losses.

Under the present contract, there is absolutely no incentive for CUC to seek cheaper means of producing electricity, since the more it spends, the more itguaranteed toas a percentage of its capital expenditure. It clearly is unrealistic to expect another company to set up shop in Cayman in competition with CUC, thereby duplicatingunits andlines,the consumers themselves using net metering willcompetitors with cheaply home produced electricity.

The common crystalline silicon cell delivers around 15 per cent efficiency but remains comparatively expensive to build. CIGS are somewhat less efficient but can be mass produced in rolls and the going cost is now about $3.60 per Watt. Exotic cells have recently been built that exceed 40 per cent efficiency for space applications, while dishes that concentrate the sun’s rays on a Sterling heat powered generator now attain 30 per cent efficiency and offer a viable alternative to solar panels installed on a roof. For reasons of aesthetics and practicality, solar power now comes in all shapes and forms – from solar shingles, to standing seam roofs fitted with full length CIGS solar foil inserted in the pans, to even solar windows and siding – so there is no need to worry about the looks of the traditional solar panels on one’s roof. Then, in less than five years, electric plug-in cars will come on the market, offering two major benefits: home refuelling using cheap renewable energy and a readily available battery bank to store surplus electricity in the aftermath of a hurricane, allowing a large degree of self-sufficiency.

Not having a solar related business or being a professional in the field, I have no vested interest other than that of an ordinary consumer to see net metering becoming a reality in Cayman and I would be happy to donate my time to help ensure that this no brainer concept become an integral part of the new CUC contract.

Frank Goelo

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