A sunny future for Cayman

With the flip of a switch, yesterday marked a day unlike any other in Cayman. It’s a day many have been anxiously waiting for, and a day some say is long overdue.

Solar

Builder Lindsay Scott with Mike Richardson and Russell Bunton of Mega Systems with the solar power system.

With a flip of a switch, Cayman has entered the solar age.

Thanks to the combined efforts of builder Lindsay Scott, homeowner Frank Banks and a lot of persistence, Cayman’s first solar-powered house was connected to the grid on Wednesday.

When he started planning his dream South Sound beachfront retirement home, Mr. Banks knew he wanted to do something no-one had done before in Cayman – run the house on solar power.

‘Mr. Banks’ vision was to build a home that had a minimal carbon footprint, and with this system we will be producing about 85 per cent less emissions,’ said builder Lindsay Scott, who has been with the project since its inception.

Phil Thomas, managing director of the Electricity Regulatory Authority, estimates that one gallon of diesel produces approximately 18.5 KW/h of energy, and the latest numbers from CUC show the utility used 31 million gallons of diesel fuel in 2008, averaging nearly 85,000 gallons per day.

The size of the unit at 17.1 kw is based on the house using 100 kw/h of power a day, a mere drop in the bucket, on its own, but certainly a start.

Installed by Mega Systems on a white arbour designed to allow airflow for cooling, the 84-panel array of photovoltaic panels is in plain sight of the road. With the panels arranged at the optimum angle and with no shading, it’s a perfect test model.

‘We conceived the project in 2004, started building a super energy-efficient home that would be perfect for a solar power system over 2005, and Mr. Banks moved in December 2006,’ said Mr. Scott.

At that time, the kind of solar energy technology they had in mind was not available. The systems were too big, too bulky, and too expensive.

So the team waited, and it paid off.

‘In the past two years, major advances have been made in solar, so far fewer square feet are required, and the photovoltaic panels are more durable, able to withstand wind speeds up to 120 miles an hour,’ said Mr. Scott.

Another major concern was what to do with the excess power generated by the panels. Battery storage technology is not well developed, and the ideal scenario would have homeowners sending their unused power back into the electricity grid.

Under the new Consumer Owned Renewable Energy agreement which was finalised in January, it is now possible for people with their own generation systems to send their electricity to the grid.

The programme was introduced following the granting of a new licence to CUC last year which retained the utility company’s place as Cayman’s exclusive distributor of electricity, but stipulated that it no longer had the monopoly on generating electricity, with a plan for buying excess electricity generated by homeowners.

That proved to be a turning point for Mr. Banks’ dream, as now his system could be installed with peace of mind.

‘Once up and running, we can get real numbers on how it’s working. We have the top brands, Kyocera and Sunny Boy which were the best available technology,’ said Mr. Scott.

The system is also being monitored remotely in Florida to analyse electricity information, which then can be made public.

‘We ran a lot of numbers, and determined the electricity costs to run the home as desired would be $14,000 per year using power from CUC,’ said Mr. Scott

‘We determined that for the cost, this solar photovoltaic system will be paid off in eight years,’ said Mr. Scott.

But since the system is anticipated to last 20 to 25 years, it’s an investment that will amount to many years of free electricity.

‘Over 20 years, how many gallons of diesel are we not going to burn to generate for this house?’ said Mr. Scott.

‘We are definitely doing our part to have a cleaner environment.’

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