Founded as a private utility in 1973, the company has mounted 234 U.S.-built Suniva panels on the 7,850-square-feet top of one of the its three 1-million-gallon storage tanks at the Abel Castillo Water Works in Governor’s Harbour.
The panels, each rated at 250 watts, will fuel the site’s four water-distribution pumps, which help push water through the company’s 88 miles of subterranean piping, serving West Bay and residential and commercial developments along Seven Mile Beach.
Gregory McTaggart, Consolidated Water vice president of Cayman operations, says the array will generate 1.05 percent – 106,500 kilowatt hours – of the 10.6 million kilowatt hours the company consumes each year, sparking a massive reduction in electricity bills.
That reduction will save 7,100 gallons of diesel fuel annually, eliminating 80 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
“Desalinization is an energy-intensive process,” said Mr. McTaggart, pointing to electricity bills that have traditionally run into “the millions of dollars” and long efforts with other energy-recovery programs.
For example, he said, Cayman was among the first in the world to take advantage of technologies that sought to recover energy stored in the “brine stream,” the salt-heavy by-product of making potable water from seawater, installing two plants that employed an early conservation system, the dual work exchanger energy recovery.
The new $250,000 solar system, rated for 20 years, is a pilot project, Mr. McTaggart said. “It will replace some of our requirements and, hopefully, will lead to bigger and better things.
“The company always looks to increase its operational efficiency and its value to customers,” he says. “This is just one of the technologies we are looking at, and we think it will work. We wouldn’t be doing it otherwise.
“We will produce 1 percent of our yearly electricity requirements and see how it all fits, how robust the system is, how reliable and how much we think it can meet our requirements.”
Consolidated Water did not face a precipitating event, pushing them to ponder solar power, he said, but found itself evaluating how renewable energy “dovetailed with our desalinization operations.” “We started talking in November,” Mr. McTaggart said. After scrutinizing the numbers and the complexities, ordering equipment – and spending money – started in February.
”Installation started in May, and we completed it at the end of July,” he said.
The company has not limited the trial period, preferring to wait and see.
“It’s a large project for Cayman, but is not all that big,” he said, comparing it with installations elsewhere, estimating the Consolidated Water Company project at roughly half the size of the solar array at Caledonian Global Financial Services, which last week announced its own 528-panel move away from dependence on the CUC grid to the utility’s Consumer Owned Renewable Energy scheme, known as CORE.
Since July, Consolidated Water engineers and executives have been watching the system, moving toward activation, and looking forward to throwing the switch this week, although Mr. McTaggart remained cautious about naming the day.
Lead technician on the project, Florent Pelletier, he said, “is still working through some technical issues so our estimate for the exact day the system will be placed in operation remains unchanged. It will be one day this week” is as much as Mr. McTaggart can promise.
Unlike Caledonian, Consolidated Water declined to connect to CUC’s CORE program, in which the utility purchases energy from the “independent power producer,” feeding it to the national grid, then selling it back to the producer at reduced rates.
“We have chosen not to participate in the CORE program,” Mr. McTaggart said. “It may have value to others, but because we use all the energy we produce, there is no value in participating. We have no excess to sell to them.”
Still, the company retains a connection to the grid for emergencies or prolonged storms, depleting the batteries.
As the project proves itself, Mr. McTaggart said, the company will consider expansion, but not necessarily repeating use of the 100-foot diameter storage tanks.
“We would not necessarily place panels on all three tanks due to other operational considerations,” he said. “There are, however, other areas and building roofs on site that could potentially be used to expand the renewable energy capacity at [Abel Castillo].”
Finally, he pointed out, the quarter-million-dollar investment will not affect consumer prices: “None of the costs will impact the price of water. There will be no rise in rates or anything else. This is designed to help the company and maybe even lower rates.”