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.”