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Going solar

Imagine not relying on the T&T Electricity Commission (T&TEC) to power your television, computer, power tools, generator. The work energy needs of Dave and Carol Singh-Samlal, who operate Omega Telecom Ltd, which sells and leases two-way radios to energy companies, security firms and hardwares—are solely solar-powered. Solar energy allows them to use their Acer computer, printer, standing fan, a 6500 BTU air-condition unit, a 17-inch television and a small refrigerator. “When you are using solar, you have to use systems that are power efficient, low-energy computers and Acer is one of them,” Carol said. The computer pulls no more than four amps.

A drilling machine, a heat gun to repair circuit boards in two-way radios, all use solar energy. Behind their work space is an patio that doubles as an entertainment area and a kitchen for Carol’s curry duck limes. The calming sounds of all manner of birds fill the otherwise still air. Hummingbirds especially come alive in these parts. On the roof is a 10-watt LED bulb—light-emitting diode—which does not generate much heat. The posts are lit with 1.5-watt LED bulbs. “The heat that you would get from a normal fluorescent bulb, you won’t get that with this bulb. Another bulb is 20 watts, instead of 40 watts, so you cut down on your power usage,” said Carol. “LED lights are probably ten times cooler than fluorescent lights,” Dave said. The couple formed the company, located at De Gannes Village, Siparia, in 1999, but have been using renewable energy since the 1980s.

TOP: The Samlals use energy-saving bulbs.
ABOVE: The wind generator on a water tank stand at the Samlal’s home in Siparia.

“Our business is 100 per cent off the grid. That means we have no connection to the grid for T&TEC power. We are totally solar- and wind-powered,” Carol said. “That gives you a lot of peace of mind. It is reliable. That overhead, you can have the competitive advantage in the sense that you don’t have a cost to pass on to the client. “We are trying to encourage people not to disconnect from the grid, but complement what they use in a low-energy way and, at the same time, reduce their carbon footprint,” Carol said. Her husband Dave chimed in: “We have solar panels placed strategically on the roof of the building to capture the maximum sunlight. “A feasibility study was done to determine where is the best solar part to attract the sun and then install. We have about 30 panels, which generate above 2,500 watts right now. Our panels capture light.”

Dave explained how their renewable system works. The energy from the solar panels is stored in 34 absorbent glass mat (AGM) batteries, which are safe for home use. “They are like lead acid batteries, but they are more advanced. Instead of having a liquid acid, there’s a sort of fibre glass that is soaked in the acid and is in-between the plates as the electrolyte. “So you can turn these batteries upside down. If you have an earthquake, they are not going to spill. But in order for them not to explode, what you should do is you should charge them at a controlled rate. “Everything has a bit of technology you have to use with it. Next to the batteries on the wall are fully computerised solar-charged controllers. We have 24.1 amps of solar power.

“What this does is boost the voltage up off the solar panels. It is a solar-charged controller. According to the solar power, it will adjust the solar charge/current to the batteries. “It then goes into the battery, the voltage is then applied to these inverters, which convert 12-volt DC and 24-volt DC into one 120-volts AC,” he said. “We’ll have to increase the capacity of the panels to accommodate an air-condition unit. We might have to put about 15-20 more panels to make sure that is enough to power a unit. “Wind power, that produces about five to 10 amps of wind. We don’t have a lot of wind in Trinidad. Most times when we have wind is when there’s rain. It supplements the solar charge. “Once the place is cool, at night even, you get power from the wind. We have a 600-watt wind generator,” said Dave, a telecommunications technician by profession.

The Samlals are not only into renewable energy and reducing their own carbon footprint. They are into recycling. For instance, they used materials from the energy sector to build their work station where they service and repair two-way radios. Materials from three old derricks were used to build a four feet by eight feet work table as well as a fence. “We used the derricks to build a large shed at the back of the office,” Carol said. Carol’s late father-in-law, Ralph Samlal, a telecommunications engineer who also operated a two-way radio business, purchased the derricks more than 19 years ago as scrap metal from an oilfield company. An old metal tank used to make cupboards.

“I worked with my dad with Omega Communications and Electronics, and then we started our company, Omega Telecom. “During that period of time, we had to apply different power technologies. This is where we learned the skills,” Dave said. Carol added her bit: “Necessity was the forefather of invention.” This is a couple that “harvests” rain water in four 400-gallon water tanks. The water is filtered and used for drinking, bathing, flushing the toilet, washing dishes, etc. Even though Carol described themselves as “thinkers outside of the box,” she admitted, “People still consider us kind of crazy. Her husband interrupted to say, “But I love to do crazy.” She continued, “We have a diverse grouping of friends from different industries. They love what we do.”

Dave and Carol Singh-Samlal

The Samlals’ home, less than a five-minute drive from their work station, is partially wind- and solar-powered. This year the Samlals plan to totally disconnect their home energy use from T&TEC. They plan to use more ceiling fans, install a 12-volt solar water pump and add a couple of wind generators. Presently, they have one wind generator and 600 watts of solar panels, which power their lights, four computers, DVD player, television, ceiling fan. “I will have all my amenities,” he said. This from a couple who won the 2009 Pioneer Award from the South Trinidad Chamber of Industry and Commerce, for its renewable energy project. Methanex Trinidad Ltd sponsored the Samlals’ company at last month’s STCIC three-day energy conference at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad hotel.

The Samlals are a studied two. He’s been trained in the two-way radio business, servicing fuel injection engines and in renewable energy. He’s a member of the Canada-based Association of Energy Engineers. “I’ve been doing renewable energy for more than 20 years. I have the know-how. I’ve been through the grind through trial and error. I’m now trying to get certification. She’s currently finishing her degree in human resources at SAM’s Caribbean through the London-based Anglia Ruskin University. In September, she plans to start her masters in innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership. Said Dave, “I am at present completing training in refrigeration and air-conditioning. I have also started doing renewable energy technology, with the intention of taking the company in the direction of renewable energy.

The 34 back-up batteries in which solar energy is stored for the Samlals’ use at work

“I do a lot of City and Guilds exams. I did a bit of training and serving in aircraft avionics in Canada.” “If a car is not working properly and the injectors are not working properly, you will pollute and, at the same time, use more fuel. So that is one way of saving the environment. “The other way is looking at a different concept in terms of air-conditioning, in terms of refrigeration and this is what we felt people should have been doing in Trinidad. “If you look at the size of our organisation, the revenue generated by our organisation, and the massive conglomerates we have in T&T, they are not investing any money in the environment,” Dave said. The Samlals see their project as initiating something another generation can build on.

“Money cannot buy fresh air. When you look at it, I am here, but what about the next generation and the next generation. What am I leaving as an inheritance for them. “Would I leave money and then continue the same curse, or would I leave a passionate desire to do something different, to do something that contributes to everybody? “I am sure at the end of my time, my son and daughter will take some of the values that we are trying to teach them and they will always go one step up. “My dad used to say, every generation must go at least one step up. You must want the best for the next generation,” he said. The Samlals have a solar-powered repeater on “a pristine estate—not theirs—in the Central Range.

“There is no power for its repeater site at its Central Range location, so we had to find innovative ways to power our equipment. Technically, it’s in the forest in the Central Range on an estate in Gran Couva. It is about 960 feet above sea level. The Samlals so love nature, finding an alternative energy to power the repeater site was important to them.
“We do not want to destroy it,” Dave said. “If you had the T&T Electricity Commission going there run power lines, they would cut down a lot of the bushes, trees. The infrastructure cost would be phenomenal.

“We got permission to use it to install the antenna tower. If T&TEC had to get involved, it would be very expensive because the estate is not for people to live on. It is purely for agriculture. “The estate has a spring. There are a lot of animals on the estate, around the cocoa. We did not want to be part of the destructive force of mankind, so my dad felt at that time—we are talking about 20, 25 years ago—we weren’t going to destroy anything.” “I always had this dream from a small boy, I want to build a tree house. I want to go in the jungle and live. That has been an ongoing passion. And I will do it. We like to dabble with things that are different.” That they do.

Category/ies:Trinidad and Tobago News.
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