With petrol prices holding steady and Caribbean Utilities Company’s June rate rise in place, Grand Cayman appears ready for boosted energy consumption through the summer, notwithstanding hurricanes, extreme weather and volatile oil prices.
Retail prices at Cayman’s 22 gas stations – 19 in Grand Cayman and three in the Sister Islands of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman – have held steady since early this year, hovering about 5 per cent below the $6 per gallon mark.
At CUC, spokeswoman Pat Bynoe-Clarke said maintenance chores are complete and the company’s 19 generators prepared to feed the seasonal spike in demand.
“In preparation for the summer, the company aims to complete its major generation maintenance so that all units are available for the peak demand,” said Ms Bynoe-Clarke, comparing the utility’s capacity with consumer requirements, of which air-conditioning comprises as much as 70 per cent.
Average demand traditionally ranges between 90 megawatts and 100 megawatts, Ms Bynoe-Clarke said, while peak demand is typically set in the summer, between June and September.
She said generating capacity has risen slightly, although consumption has declined as escalating prices – pushing consumer bills 0.5 per cent higher as of 1 June, coming on top of a 0.7 per cent growth the previous year – have spurred conservation and reduced demand.
Last year, CUC had the ability to generate 150.99 megawatts of power, and, in 2011, 149.4 megawatts. Consumer demand in 2012, by contrast, topped out at 95.92 megawatts, down from 2011’s 98 megawatts, but a sharp decline from 2010’s peak of 102.09 megawatts.
The utility’s 2012 annual report lamented reduced earnings, blaming declining ranks of expatriates, fewer work permits in the marketplace, a subsequent proliferation of empty homes and slowed demand.
Meanwhile, average petrol prices, according to the Petroleum Inspectorate, have stabilised at roughly $5.80 per gallon of premium petrol at the full-service pumps since the beginning of 2013.
“Fuel prices on the retail side have been relatively stable, having started the year at a combined average of CI$5.73 per gallon, then moderately increasing to $5.77 by mid-March,” Petroleum Inspector Duke Monroe told the Caymanian Compass on Friday.
Recently, Mr. Monroe said, costs have eased slightly to $5.75, currently the average across all three islands for all retail petrol grades – diesel, premium and regular.
He stopped short of guaranteeing current prices, however, although describing himself as “cautiously optimistic”, yet warning consumers that “real world factors” could intervene.
“Considering last year’s prices, this year’s summer prices can swing in any direction and this depends heavily on refined product prices and purchasing arrangements of the major oil companies,” he said.
Ms Bynoe-Clarke encouraged consumers to conserve energy and reduce their bills by setting thermostats at the highest tolerable temperatures and, where possible, employ ceiling fans.
“Research shows that electricity consumed by air conditioning can account for more than half of the electric bill during the hotter months,” Ms Bynoe-Clarke said. “Once you lower your thermostat, it causes the air-conditioner to run longer, which increases energy use. Properly maintained air-conditioning units use less energy to cool a home.”
As such, she said, air conditioning, if not entirely shut off in a vacant residence, should at least remain at moderate levels.
“Keep your thermostat set at 78 degrees or the highest comfortable setting with the fan switch on ‘auto’,” allowing the mechanism to self-regulate in predictable cycles.
“Cool your home only when you are there,” she advised, and when absent “remember to turn off your air-conditioning system or move the thermostat up to 85 degrees,” returning it to the mid-70s only when you return.
“It will cost a lot less to turn off your air-conditioning system when you leave or move the thermostat up to a higher setting, than it does keeping it at 78 all day. You can also buy an inexpensive programmable thermostat that will do this automatically for you. Setting the thermostat up a few degrees to raise the temperature in the home during the summer will help, and will likely still maintain a comfortable environment relative to the extreme heat outside,” she said.
“Your home will not cool down any faster if you set the thermostat to 70 degrees instead of a typical setting of 78 degrees. It will just cause the air-conditioning system to run longer to cool below the 78 degrees.”
Cleaning or changing air conditioning filters monthly, augmented with quarterly servicing, boosts efficiency, while an entirely new system takes advantage of improved technologies, measured in terms of a “Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio”. A SEER of at least 15, Ms Bynoe-Clarke said, ensures results similar to older, harder-working machines, but with less power consumption.
She finished with a reassurance about summer storms: “The summer months also coincide with hurricane season and the company has already exercised its preparedness plan, and has ramped up stock of poles, wires and other equipment and materials.”
The Petroleum Inspectorate’s Mr. Monroe echoed Ms Bynoe-Clarke’s cautions about storm risks, not to mention volatile fuel costs, warning of “any impact of hurricane on prices, and demand/supply effects also in the US, which is our main source for petroleum products.
“Hopefully, the holding pattern we have seen so far this year remains for prices on the local scene, or at best, if it follows the current global price trends, there is a possibility of seeing a relief at the pump as was the case during the greater part of summer 2012,” he said.