Solar Energy Could Power Cayman

How solar energy works. Graphic: Supplied.

The Cayman Islands could meet all its power needs through renewable energy within the next five years, an industry advocate has claimed.

Jim Knapp, managing director of Endless Energy (Cayman) Limited, believes Grand Cayman could meet demand through renewable energy and cites real world examples of larger systems than Cayman’s utility to prove it.

He accepts it would take ‘significant investment’ to bring suitable storage and smart-grid technology to the Island to realise this vision.

But he believes the costs of financing such investment would still be cheaper than shelling out on fossil fuels and the long-term benefits would be immeasurable.

He said the consistent availability of direct sunlight and the relatively small size of the Island make it the ideal place to showcase renewable energy.

And he cited systems in Texas and China that already used industrial-sized batteries to deliver electricity to similar sized power grids to Cayman (140-156MW) as proof that it can be done.

Mr. Knapp, who powers his own home entirely through renewable energy sources, said the means were already there for Cayman’s residents to install solar technology and wipe out their CUC bills almost entirely.

He argued that residents investing in solar could cut one of the biggest expenses – their electricity bills – without breaking the bank to refit their homes.

“There is financing available for this. At the most basic level if your loan repayments are less than your electricity bill, you are already saving money.”

He said the solar systems typically lasted at least 25 years, meaning that once the installation costs were paid off, electricity expenses were eradicated completely.

He said a 10KW residential solar energy system – enough to meet 100 per cent of electricity needs for most homeowners – cost around $45,000 to install.  A 5KW system costs around $25,000.

Endless Energy works with businesses to help them utilise renewable energy to cut costs. The company designed a solar car park – utilising panels on the top of roofed parking spaces – for the Caledonian group.

It’s a model, Mr. Knapp believes, could have been used to help provide the 36MW of power that are about to be added to the national grid. The contract to provide that power was won after a competitive tender process by DECCO, which will build new diesel-powered generators.

“For every bit of new power generation that government goes out to bid for, a fixed percentage should be from renewable sources.

“36MW is not an insignificant task but there is space out there. There are a huge number of parking lots in Cayman where this type of system could be utilised.”

With 12 hours of solid sunshine a day, Mr. Knapp believes Cayman can become a world leader in renewable energy, if it gets the right support.

“The resource potential here is enormous. Cayman could be a model for the world. We are a small enough place that we could showcase renewable energy and smart grid technology.

“There is a significant investment that needs to be made to accomplish utility grade renewable energy using storage and smart grid technology in Cayman but the investment is financeable and would cost the residents of Cayman significantly less than current and future fossil fuel generated electricity.”

On a smaller scale Caledonian reports that it has cut the cost of doing business by investing in energy efficiency.

Steve Sokohl, chief financial officer at Caledonian, told the Compass an internal redesign and a new energy policy had cut 30 per cent off its electricity bills. He hopes the solar car park will reduce costs even further.

“We looked at the amount of money we were paying to CUC and decided that was money we would rather be paying to our employees,” he said.

The Lighthouse Point eco-tourism and dive resort is another Caymanian business that already uses green technology.

The resort, which features nine condominiums and a dive shop, meets the bulk of its energy expenses through an array of solar panels.

Nancy Easterbrook, co-owner of the business, said it made financial sense as well as benefitting the environment.

She said: “There is a payback financially and we are reducing our carbon footprint at the same time. Cayman has an opportunity to be a world-wide leader in the use of alternative energy.”

Ms Easterbrook said a net-metering system, which allows people to reduce their consumption costs by using renewable energy supplies like wind and solar to feed the CUC grid and then being able to take it back when needed, would make using renewable energy even more cost-effective for businesses and homeowners.