Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Making solar energy a viable option in Jamaica

The high cost of electricity continues to afflict every business and individual in Jamaica. Failing to encourage solar solutions because they would affect the bottom line of JPS is a short-sighted approach. In my letter to the Daily Gleaner, (below) published on June 5, 2014, I recommended net-billing as a win-win option for JPS and customers. However, it didn’t recommend how we could solve the peak demand dilemma.   I’m now suggesting that peak demand for electricity could be reduced by the National Water Commission using more solar generated electricity, produced by individual customers with net-billing, who send electricity to JPS during the day.
NWC is the single largest consumer of electricity in the public sector, accounting for approximately 47% of public sector energy consumption. The average monthly electricity consumption for the NWC is approximately 15,000,000 kWh, and it spends approximately J$280 million per month on electricity. They have the option of pumping water to tanks situated on higher ground during the day, which would flow by gravity during the night. In other words, they can convert solar energy into potential energy for use at night, so they wouldn’t have to use electricity during the hours of peak demand.
Not being an engineer, I don’t know about the practicality of turning pumps on and off, but since it is done in times of water shortage, it must be possible. Where NWC doesn’t have storage facilities, individuals could be provided with black tanks, which many people already have, if that would be a more practical option than building new storage facilities.  The inconvenience of having reduced water pressure during the hours of peak electricity demand would be offset by the lower cost for both electricity and water.

The rationale for net-billing is set out in this letter:
Dear  Sir,
With reference to your headline article, “Solar Power Risk” in the Daily Gleaner of June 3, I think that our policy decisions in relation to electricity should be based on long-term considerations, such as the amount of foreign exchange spent on fossil fuels, and the threat of global warming, rather than on return on investments.
My initial observation is that we have failed to capitalize on the opportunities provided by solar energy. Neither JPS nor OUR have educated the public on the win-win situation which is possible with net-billing. More people might be interested in applying for net-billing if the application process were quicker, and the steps involved, detailed instructions for which are given on JPS website, were less onerous.  Most people are unaware that you do not need batteries to run a solar system if you have a grid-tie with JPS. In fact, going that route is more environmentally friendly and less expensive as shown by the calculation below.
On the whole, companies selling solar systems encourage purchasers to buy batteries. Their pitch is that you can cut your electricity bills and even get off the grid entirely. They also tell you that JPS pays you only half of what you pay JPS per KWH, which is true, but they don’t tell you that batteries would cost more. Also, most people use more electricity in the summer than in the winter. To get off the grid entirely, one would have to install sufficient panels to supply one’s summer needs and then one would have excess in the winter. It would be better to be able to send the excess to the grid in the winter and draw from JPS if necessary in the summer.
      My calculation is based on a monthly average of 200 KWH being sent to JPS in the day, and drawn from JPS at night. (It does not include the excess amounts being sent or drawn). Nor does it take into account escalating costs. I make the optimistic assumption that a battery bank will last for ten years.
Without solar panels
200 KWH x Ja$40 = $8000 monthly x 12 = $96,000 annually x10 years = $960,000.00
With solar panels and net billing (cost corresponding to half of $40.00)
200 KWH x $20 =    $4000 monthly x 12 = 48,000 annually x 10 years = $480,000.00
Savings: $480,000.00
With batteries, no net-billing, cost would be $0, but
Cost of 16 batteries @ $40,000.00 each with life expectancy 10 years max = $640,000
In contrast, as Mr. John Kistle states, JPS would be faced with the challenge of providing everybody with electricity at peak hours after sunset, or on overcast days. Some of that generating capacity would have to be turned off at peak sunshine hours, thus reducing the return on whatever investment was made in a new power plant.  However, solar power would cut down on the amount of fuel needed to run the plant.
Given the importance of the cost of electricity to all of us in Jamaica, perhaps there are some other things we can do. Could there be a consensus, for example, on turning off our fridges during peak hours? Or JPS charging different rates at peak hours?
I think that all stakeholders need to be involved in making these hard decisions.

Yours truly,
Helen Williams


malik aayan said...

I have no words for this great post such a awe-some information.How Solar Panels work

Helen said...

Thank you for your kind comment, Malik. I would be grateful if you could encourage others to read this post and spread the word.