How to cut electricity costs

Re: “CUC set to announce new billing program by end of April,” April 21

It is true that most utilities in the U.S. utilize “demand” charges for billing. James Whittaker said, “Reliance on renewable energy and privately operated CORE systems – with storage batteries – is the chief method of managing energy consumption”. That is a somewhat misleading statement by someone who makes their living from renewable energy products.

A few methods used in the U.S. by companies to minimize the effect of demand charges, that customers should consider, are the following. If your major load consumption is air conditioning you might consider a thermal storage system such as ice or chilled water. With either system, you generate the ice or chilled water during “off-peak” hours and use a simple pump motor to move the cooling fluid through your air handlers during the “peak” hours.

If you are in a manufacturing or process industry, an alternative is shifting hours of operation to off-peak hours or installing variable speed or frequency drive systems to improve the efficiency of motor operations. Load shifting is the most cost-effective thing you can do if you are on “peak demand billing,” and it costs virtually nothing.

If you have large motors, determine your “power factor.” This is generally done by a professional electrician or by CUC. A poor power factor can cause overheating of electrical panels and cause inefficiencies of the motors that are running. While CUC does not charge for “power factor,” it can be an important factor in the sizing of their electrical system components.

Solar power can be most cost effective when installed by CUC. Yes, larger commercial systems (solar farms) are not only more efficient but less costly to install. Companies such as NextEra Energy (Florida Power and Light’s parent company) and other major renewable energy companies can install large scale solar at less than half the cost of distributed small rooftop solar installations, and they provide cost benefits to all customers. With large utility-scale solar operations, all customers of the utility benefit from the savings, not just the elite few that can afford (with subsidies from the government or CUC which all customers pay for) to install rooftop solar. Think about Cayman and the fact that it requires about 700-800 acres of land to install a 40-megawatt highly efficient solar farm. How many rooftops does Cayman have?

Battery backup systems, when combined with large utility-scale solar projects, can provide the ride-through during the night, late evening or early morning hours when the solar photovoltaic system is not producing (no sunlight). When these are combined with a solar rooftop unit, the cost of the entire system is exceedingly higher and generally not cost effective unless the government and CUC subsidize a large portion of the cost.

To further reduce your total commercial and residential energy costs, consider the following: Install energy efficient LED lighting. Fixture replacement works best, if you can afford it. Use LED bulb replacement if you cannot afford the whole fixture, but some older fixtures are not compatible with LEDs. Ceiling fans can be beneficial if you are physically in the room. Ceiling fans cause moisture to evaporate from your skin more rapidly and thus help to cool you more effectively. Window exhaust fans can pull the air through a home at a faster rate. Turn these off when you are not in the room or returning to the room quickly. Use exterior shading such as bushes, trees, landscaping, awnings and other means of protecting your windows and walls that face east and west. Insulate your attic space if you have one, but make sure to keep proper airflow through your attic to prevent causing heat, mold and mildew to accumulate in the attic area and damage the roof. Turn off any unnecessary electrical equipment when it is not in use (count the number of small LEDs on all of your appliances, phone chargers, computers, printers, etc.. It all adds up to energy consumption). Replace air-conditioning systems with high and super-high efficiency units as your old one fails.

All of the above, which are just a few ways to manage energy costs, can impact CUC and their operations. It could be potentially problematic for CUC financial forecasting, and future electricity costs, if a comprehensive approach to the “RATE” design scheme is not undertaken. Instituting peak demand charges without understanding the impact of customer reaction toward more efficient operations and reduced energy use can possibly create higher costs for CUC. Adding distributed generation haphazardly around the island will impact the distribution, transmission and generating operations of CUC and may potentially drive up costs for all customers. It may also cause reliability issues for neighbors of those having the rooftop solar and battery backup systems.

Another issue to consider is “cost to serve.” Are costs to serve certain customers and certain customer loads being levied or levied appropriately? It generally costs less to serve a single large customer that has a steady load throughout the day than it does to serve a customer that spikes energy use at certain times of the day, or a home or business located in a remote area requiring additional power lines, etc., to serve them.

Lastly, keep in mind the embedded costs of infrastructure that CUC has built into the system over the years. Any massive effort to shift from diesel power to solar impacts those embedded costs of infrastructure. When it becomes cost effective to remove a diesel generator from service, Cayman wins. To replace a 40-megawatt diesel generator, you must have an equivalent, reliable amount of sustainable generation from solar, wind, water, battery or some other source that together produces that 40 megawatts of power continuously for many, many years. That is when costs for electricity will come down.

Rick Chalker

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