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Solar Farms, not Rooftops says CUC CEO

Front Pages 10 Apr, 2024 Follow News

Solar Farms, not Rooftops says CUC CEO

By Stuart Wilson

Representatives of the Caribbean Utilities Company (CUC), hosted a presentation on Friday, April 5th, to discuss the company’s plans in relation to renewable energy in the Cayman Islands.

Members of the press gathered at the CUC headquarters on North Sound Road for the session, which was led by CEO and President of CUC, Mr. Richard Hew, who outlined challenges as well as the successes in moving toward a more sustainable and environmentally friendly model of energy production and sustainability, based on the implementation of solar farms.

“Cayman has been a leader in the region in many areas, and we feel this is an area that in which we can be well positioned for the future,” he remarked.

Mr. Hew said though regulation and approval for plans were matters that could be dealt with more expeditiously, the good news is that everyone wants to see progress in the area of renewable energy.

“How we get there however, is something that will have to be determined with all of the facts”, he surmised.

A part of the challenge concerning renewable energy facing CUC and the Cayman Islands is that to get to 100 percent of renewable/sustainable energy is not possible, due to the 20 percent of power coming from diesel generation.

The current renewable energy scenario in Cayman involves the use of solar panels on roofs, which are supplemented by diesel generation provided by CUC.

This means that when there is an excess of cloud cover, the diesel generation of power at CUC’s plant has to bare the entire brunt of the shortfall of energy generation.

CUC owns the grid/infrastructure, which means the company is tasked with the burden of having to make sure power is available, whilst not having the final say in how it is done, due to regulatory challenges.

The use of diesel generation to supplement rooftop solar only makes it 6 percent more effective.

In this environment rotating outages are a major concern and since 2015, Cayman has not had permanent generation due to regulatory challenges. As a result, CUC has had to rotate the diesel generating mechanism to target peak demand.

“Unfortunately, what many people do not realise is that it is expensive to get solar from independent generation. Utility scale solar (solar farms) is the best solution”, he noted.

“Rooftop solar is no most expensive and does not provide a solution fully,” he added.

Mr. Hew explained that CUC does not charge a ‘mark up’ to the public for the power that they receive from rooftop solar sources currently being used, which the company has to purchase.

The impracticality of relying on diesel to supplement rooftop solar is compounded by macro factors such as war, instability of prices and availability, due to disruptive elements in the Middle East.

Hence, the introduction of LT (lithium-titanate) batteries by CUC, which will be fully functional in the next two months, and will supplement the shortfall of energy that may be caused by the current means of sourcing solar energy, thus taking some of the burden off of the company’s diesel generators and ensuring the capacity to meet peak demand.

“We have to be preemptive in our approach. The batteries store energy and take some of the burden off the diesel sources of energy, which are not environmentally friendly” said Mr. Hew.

He noted that these sources of energy are not an ideal means of servicing Cayman’s demand, adding that now is the time for the Cayman Islands to take the opportunity to move toward a more sustainable industry using the solar farm model.

“Rooftop solar are the most expensive route and have the least impact, whilst utility scale solar has the most impact for the least amount of cost,” he said, adding that more diesel generation of power is simply not the answer and is not ideal nor sustainable.

Mr. Hew indicated that CUC does currently has the land to be able to institute solar farms.

The Cayman Islands currently has one of the best averages in the world for consistent generation of power with only 1.7 hours (average) of outages during 2023, a number that is even lower than that of North America.

“This is an essential part of what makes Cayman such an attractive place to live and to do business,” said Mr. Hew.  

Around the Caribbean and in many parts of the world the numbers are in the region of 20 hours of outages per year.

“Now if we want to talk about a different level of service that is another discussion. We can either meet peak demand or deal with a much higher average of rolling outages, as demand increases and Cayman continues to grow but do we really want to go down that road.

“Roof top solar cannot meet the demand in an inexpensive or fully sustainable way,” Mr. Hew remarked.

In the Cayman Islands heat and air-conditioning are the major factors in cost and in some instances people have foregone insulation, opting for aesthetics such as granite counter tops instead.

This places a huge burden on the current system and is a major cause of bills being higher in the summer, according to CUC representatives.

They said rogue contractors were also an issue, as they were not making sure homes were air-tight and causing utilities to work harder to keep the space cool.

This summer peak demand will no doubt be an issue for CUC and with the company trying to get rid of diesel against a backdrop of regulatory concerns, company officials said the time is now to make the right choices for Cayman’s future in relation to energy.

“We cannot rely on borrowing the shortfall of energy, as we are in a remote area.

“The LT  (lithium-titanate) batteries are up and ready and will help. We hope to pair those with solar farms, which can be ready within two years to meet the growing demand,” noted Mr. Hew. 

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