Caledonian opts to switch on 
Cayman’s largest solar array

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The solar array for the 200,000-square-foot, three-story Caledonian Global Financial Services building is the largest in the Cayman Islands, and may show other companies the way toward slashing their own electricity bills. 

It is also the largest renewable-power generation project that Caribbean Utilities Company has allowed in its Consumer Owned Renewable Energy program, a scheme designed to allow residential and commercial owners to generate their own power, while maintaining CUC’s monopoly as the sole provider of electricity in Grand Cayman. 

Caledonian hopes to turn on its bold new generating system by the end of the year, although both Jim Knapp’s Endless Energy builders and company executives hope to start in November. 

“We used to pay about US$320,000 per year for electricity,” said Steven Sokohl, Caledonian chief financial officer. “We are reducing that now by $200,000, so roughly speaking, we’re going from $300,000 to $100,000, and that is through the contribution of solar and a series of smaller energy improvements to our infrastructure.” 

New installations include an LED system; a high-efficiency chiller; a series of sensors to monitor zones throughout the building, controlling lighting and air-conditioning; and a new Web-based heating and air-conditioning system, all of which comprise 60 percent of the $200,000 savings. 

Meanwhile, 528 solar panels erected by Mr. Knapp over the building’s parking lot provide an alternate source of power, generating 18,480 kilowatt hours per month, comprising the other 40 percent of the savings. 

The system slashes the price of a KwH from CUC’s $0.37 to as little as $0.07. With a warranted life of 25 years, the new system promises ongoing economies. 

Eventually, Mr. Knapp says, those savings could rise to as much as 50 percent. Caledonian used to consume as much electricity in a day as his own house does in a month. 

“The amount they save is huge,” he said, “between $70,000 and $80,000 per year,” meaning the system will pay for itself, Mr. Sokohl said, in five to six years. 

The Caledonian parking lot will easily accommodate the 528 solar panels, Mr. Knapp said, with a capacity of 97.7 kilowatts of power, and “generating 1 megawatt per day.” 

Caledonian has linked the installation to CUC’s CORE program, selling excess energy the company does not use to the utility’s national grid. By remaining connected to that transmission and distribution network, Caledonian is able to buy back at discounted rates any power it may require in an emergency. 

Starting the project in early August at the behest of Mr. Sokohl and Caledonian CEO Barry McQuain, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineer, the first thing Endless Energy did, working with Corporate Electric on lighting and MEPCO on design, was install monitors “so we could see where every penny was spent,” Mr. Knapp said. Lighting, it turned out, was among the top eight of the 10 power-hungriest items. 

“We brought in LED lighting,” he said, installing 275 2-feet-by-2-feet fittings. “It brought [consumption] so low that lighting dropped off the list.” 

The monitors and lighting accompanied a recommendation to tint sun-facing windows, blocking the heat, while the team replaced the 20-year-old chiller. 

“This will save them $1.8 million, almost $2 million, over the 25-year warranted life of the system,” Mr. Knapp said. 

Caledonian is paving its gravel parking lot, enabling workers to dig foundations to support the three solar panel-bearing canopies that will shelter 89 vehicles as well as generate electricity. 

Each of the Shenzhen, China-built panels is 17 square feet, can generate 240 watts, and is warranted for 25 years. Each is configured to withstand wind speeds of 150 miles per hour. 

Saying “I have no comment on the cost of our investment,” Mr. Sokohl declined to discuss the price of either the power system or infrastructure improvements, although industry estimates peg the amount at slightly less than $500,000. 

He says, however, the solar installation will pay for itself in five years to six years, and the capital improvements in three years to three-and-a-half years. 

“The LED system has a life of 50,000 hours, and since we changed over, we have not had a single burnout on any main fixture. 

“The warranted life of the system is 25 years,” he said, “so after six years it’s all gravy. Really, it’s a no-brainer.” 

Even the “E-Monitor” on his iPhone, an application that tracks and plots time against consumption, and enables manual adjustments, “will pay for itself within months,” he says.  

“I can see the usage at any circuit and can control the time and temperature of every thermostat at any point in time. 

“Caledonian recognizes that going green is not only good for the environment, but makes good business sense,” he says. “It is our responsibility to do so as a good corporate citizen and will be beneficial to the long term of these Cayman Islands.” 

Mr. Knapp was equally reluctant to discuss his costs, although industry estimates peg his equipment in the neighborhood of $200,000. 

Even with costs on both sides remaining veiled, Mr. Knapp observes that the pay-back period is accelerated as CUC raises its own rates. 

“The government should be doing this in every single building. We pay those bills, and suppose in five years, there were no more bills? That goes straight to the bottom line. Government should be leading this change, especially as they see now that the banks are doing it.” 

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An artist’s impression of how the solar panels, located on the top of car parking spots, will look upon completion.
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12 COMMENTS

  1. Congratulations on this is awesome renewable energy project. I agree that the government and all residents of the Cayman Island should be providing their own solar power. We have had a 22KwH solar array for 9 condo’s and a business, producing power from 7am – 6pm everyday for now 4 years and are BLOWN away by the cost savings every month on our CUC bill.

    If government would approve and force CUC to NET Metering (directly consume power/store power in batteries from your own renewable energy first and then sell back the excess power) the cost saving would be even higher. This would help stop CUC’s monopoly on our country.

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  2. An interesting article, but I have to question at least one of the claims which just does not make sense. In the article, Mr. Knapp claims that The Caledonian parking lot will easily accommodate the 528 solar panels, with a capacity of 97.7 kilowatts of power, and generating 1 megawatt per day. Such a claim is simply wrong as it assumes a little over 10 hours per day of full sunshine striking each of the panels, something that is just impossible to achieve. Even in Cayman’s sunny climate, the most that can be hoped for is probably about 6 hours per day of sunshine when you consider clouds, rain, shadows from trees, etc. Also, if the sun is not hitting the panel full in the face then its peak capacity cannot be achieved. This would require the panels to be mounted on a tracking system to follow the sun, something that is not indicated in the article. Certainly the system will eventually pay for itself, but, almost as equally certain is that it won’t be in the 5-6 years time frame suggested in the article. Since we don’t know the setup costs or the true (real world) power output of the system, it’s impossible to calculate the return on investment for this project.

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  3. I simply cannot believe that private property owners have to get permission from CUC to install solar energy panels. CUC should not have any control over private parties creating their own energy. If anyone should have say on this it should be Central Planning not the people who are only interested in retaining their monopoly and the hold they have on a whole nation.

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  4. Robert,

    If you read the article, you would see where it says that each panel is rated at 240 watts. There will be 528 panels, which equals 126.72 Kw/h.

    They have stated that the panels have a capacity of 97.7 kw/h so obviously that is some sort of average, probably of generated power over the day but could also be over the year, estimated of course.

    And FYI, sunrise is at 6:15 and sunset is 6:18 so technically the day is over 12 hours long this time of year. Hopefully the installer has taken that into account when he stated the generating capacity of 97.7 kw/h. Optimistic. Maybe but he should know a thing about solar in Cayman so it should be pretty close

    Incidentally, the longest day of the year for Cayman is is June 21 at over 13 hours long and the shortest is Dec 21 at 10 hours long, which are the summer and winter solstice. Ancient Romans believed the Sun was reborn every Dec 21 when the days started to get longer and coincided with a celebration of Saturn which included feasting, partying and gift giving.

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  5. To add some clarity to my first comment which questioned some of the claims for the Caledonian project, let me add some additional information. The fact is that the rated output of a solar array is dependent on many factors, most important of which is useable sunlight each day. The solar panels DO NOT begin to produce power when the sun rises, but rather when the sun starts to hit the panel directly. The power output starts up slowly and is affected throughout the day by the sun’s angle to the panel, clouds, rain, trees, building shadows, etc. The output of the panel will increase until approximately noon, at which time it slowly goes down again as the sun sets. This is a simple fact that cannot be challenged. It can be overcome by constantly changing the angle of the panels so that they are always facing the sun, but this can only be achieved by using a tracking array, which is not being proposed. Another critical factor is that the output rating of the panels (in this case 240 watts), is calculated under ideal conditions, not least of which is the temperature of the solar cells; that figure is 25 Celsius, or 77 Fahrenheit. If anyone believes that the temperature of a solar panel in Cayman’s sunshine will be anywhere near 77 degrees, they are sadly mistaken. The fact is that the efficiency of the panel falls off steadily as the temperature increases. Losses in power are also experienced when converting the DC power from the panel to AC utility power. I don’t know how the capacity of 97.7 kilowatts of power, and generating 1 megawatt per day, was reached. Maybe they considered temperature and all the other factors that I mentioned, but again, the peak capacity is just that, a peak, and it cannot be achieved throughout the daylight hours under normal conditions. However you calculate it, the figures just don’t add up. Having installed solar panels at my own home, I probably know more than the average person about the topic. I would encourage anyone to investigate installing a solar system for their home as the investment will probably be financed by the energy savings alone. However, don’t take an installer’s word as gospel when listening to a sales pitch. Do some research yourself and that way you won’t be disappointed when you don’t end up with the savings that you initially expected.

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  6. Good lord people, over analyze much?

    I’m pretty sure the article was meant to report an event related to a local company that could be of interest to residents, not provide a detailed ROI calculation for solar power in the Cayman Islands. True there are some inconsistencies in the article regarding the power outputs, but the author obviously isn’t an expert in solar power generation.

    Anyway, I’m sure the folks at Caledonian have done their due diligence, seeing as how they are bankers and all. And even if the numbers don’t add up to your liking, who cares? It’s not your money being spent and not your ROI to determine. Fact is they have done it, and presumably it will benefit the rest of the island by decreasing the CUC load and quite possibly leading to lower utility prices (however marginally). It could also lead to further adoption of solar power by other businesses once the figures start to bear out now that Caledonian has taken the lead.

    Point being – stop trying to over analyze a story like this and just say hey cool, glad somebody is doing something good. If you really want to analyze the numbers call Jim Knapp and work them out for yourself.

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  7. Michael Davis,

    CUC does not restrict you from installing solar panels on your own property and generating your own energy. The CUC program referred to simply allows CUC to purchase any excess energy from the user to then redistribute on the grid. You should be thankful this exists since due to the nature of solar power, it is not always matched to the users power consumption needs. A solar household would still need to be connected to the grid for power usage when the sun isn’t shining, and conversely would benefit from selling power to the grid when the sun is shining, but power usage is low (such as the middle of a weekday).

    https://www.cuc-cayman.com/renewal-energy

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  8. I wasn’t going to respond to the comments here but have been asked by many to do so. There were many mistakes in the article. The building is not 200,000 sq ft. The bank doesn’t sell its excess energy to the grid. It sells all of the energy produced to CUC. The system does not produce a megawatt per day but it can produce more than 18 megawatts per month. The author did his best to convey the technical and financial statistics about what should be an exciting event occurring in our country.

    In Cayman we use 5.9 hours of sunshine to calculate how much energy a system will produce. This takes into effect the rainy days and cloud cover that we all experience here. We get this number from NASA and if you want to argue it be my guest. The panels will however create energy from sunrise to sunset. This is a fact and can be easily proved. They just produce more power as we move toward midday and less as we near sunset. My wife and I have lived in our solar powered home for nearly five years now and know this is accurate. Endless Energy has customers and monitoring systems that show how much energy each panel is making each and every hour as they receive sunshine.

    My thoughts are that we should not be arguing the statistics of these systems. If the banks and the largest developers on the island are incorporating them into their buildings they must know that value proposition and return on investment are real and worth doing. These are very smart people. Solar is now affordable for every homeowner and completely financeable. We can all be saving money just like the banks. What we should be asking is why our government is not doing it. We the people who pay the government’s astronomic electric bills every year should be demanding it.

    Using renewable energy makes good, common sense especially where we have such an abundance of it. If Germany can power over 50 percent of their entire country with it when they have significantly less sunshine that we have why can’t we? I can’t recall God ever raising the price for sunshine but we can’t say the same for the utilities and oil. We as a nation need to do everything we can to reduce our dependency on oil as its price will do nothing but increase. The cost of our water, food, and transportation are all tied directly to it, which means that none of our businesses will remain competitive or sustainable if they don’t act. We are all feeling the squeeze and it will get worse. In my opinion, our increased crime rates can also be tied, in some ways, to how expensive it already is to live in Cayman and this will also increase.

    I say we should be celebrating Caledonian’s move to show the way forward with reduced costs, clean energy and doing their part to help our environment at the same time. Now if we can get Government and CUC to lead us to lower cost, sustainable, clean energy we can continue to make the Cayman Islands the best place in the world to live.

    Jim Knapp

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  9. Well done guys, great example of the way forward.

    In the UK there is a planning requirement for all new commercial construction to include some measure of solar.

    For offices and factories which operate during the day there is a great deal of sense to systems like this – the expensive part of any solar system is not the generation but the storage.

    Less expensive than storage is moving loads – if Cayman went say 50% solar that could potentially be a problem with peak evening loads.
    In the UK power companies offer Economy-7 cheap electricity from midnight to 7am (Coal fired stations take too long to shut down to turn them off at night) – customers benefit from e.g. fitting time clocks to water heaters.

    Larger boats use a technology for AC where a water/anti-freeze mixture is chilled and circulated. If a home had a similar system and a tank was chilled during the day that could provide AC at night for a fraction of the load at night and the main load during peak ‘solar’ hours…

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