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Solar Energy and Storage Help Caribbean Expats Live the Good Life

A sail off on the distant horizon; soothing, cool ocean breezes and swaying palms; white, sugar-sand beaches — who hasn’t dreamed of living the good life on a Caribbean island? The Caribbean islands have a strong, elemental attraction for many of us from colder, more temperate and overcast climes. For those who have ventured beyond a one, two or even three-week Caribbean vacation — or who may even have tried to fulfill their Caribbean dream — the reality, and practicalities, of life in the Caribbean can contrast sharply, even shockingly, with our idyllic visions.


That’s not to say those idyllic elements don’t exist, but becoming a permanent, or even semi-permanent, member of a Caribbean island community and society requires determination, plenty of patience and perseverance — along with healthy doses of skepticism, ingenuity and adaptability. Coming with open eyes, ears, and an open mind and heart can also help ease the transition. And as growing numbers of expats are discovering, so can installing a home solar-battery storage system.


Solar Dream Homes on the Dominican Republic’s “Amber Coast”

Like many other expats, Bob and Susan first came to the small country town of Luperon on the Dominican Republic’s (DR) North — now “Amber” — Coast in search of a simpler, better life. About an hour’s drive from the provincial capital of Puerto Plata, Luperon is home to a well-sheltered marina and small expat community living alongside local merchants, shop owners, cattle ranchers and dairy farmers, fishermen and their families.


For Bob and Sue, building a home in this quiet, mostly peaceful town set amidst lush, green fields and semi-forested hills hard on the Caribbean coast was like a dream come true. Transforming that dream into a reality has meant paying a lot in the way of dues, however.


Among the many trials and tribulations experienced while building their Caribbean dream home was dealing with the notoriously high-priced and intermittent supply of grid power. Their decision to install a home solar PV-battery storage system wasn’t so much a matter of preference or “green living” as it was a matter of necessity.


Bob and a small local crew relocate some of the solar PV panels atop Bob and Susan’s home, aptly named the “Casa del Sol,” in Luperon, DR.


“The one day of the year you can be assured you’ll have grid power is Christmas,” Susan told REW “Or,” as Bob added, “when a bigwig is in town.” Even when the grid is up, voltage can vary widely, taking a harsh toll and compounding the degrading effects of the hot, humid climate and salt-laden air on any kind of electric and electronic device. 


DIY Solar-Storage

Bob worked with a local electrician and electronics aficionado, Otoniel Guzman, owner/operator of Smart Electric Solutions, to install their home solar-battery storage system. It consists of 28, 230-240-watt silicon solar panels — a mix of Sharp and BP — wired in strings of four on the rooftop of the contemporary, 3,500 square foot Spanish-style home Bob and his wife Susan completed two years ago.


Even here in the Dominican “campo,” today’s travelers expect to find the modern conveniences a constant supply of electricity affords, such as cell phone and Wi-Fi connectivity. And being “do-it-yourself-ers,” Bob maintains a well-equipped workshop and runs a home-based motorbike rental and sales business. “We have to have power,” Susan put it simply.


Two charge controllers manage the flow of electricity between the strings of rooftop solar panels and the three banks of eight, 6-volt lead-acid batteries that serve as the Bob and Sue’s primary power supply. Otoniel built the converter/inverters, which carry his Smart Electric Solutions label.


One inverter converts utility line AC to DC electricity to charge the battery banks. A second serves as a back-up to the first, and more importantly, inverts DC battery storage to AC electricity for use throughout Bob and Susan’s home, apartments and Bob’s workshop — the equivalent of about three households.



Running off electricity supplied by the battery banks, Bob has insulated the property from utility line power in order to assure a more secure, reliable and steadier flow of electrical power. Sine-wave inverters would provide a more reliable, higher quality flow of electricity, but they have to be bought and shipped in from outside the DR, and they’re subject to tariffs that make them that much more expensive, Sue and Bob explained.


Home Solar-Storage Savings

Up and running for two years with the second inverter installed, Bob and Susan’s home solar-battery storage system meets nearly all of their daily electricity needs. “If I want to run my arc welder, I start my generator,” Bob said.


Besides their roughly 2,000 square foot two-bedroom home, the happily married couple rent out two good-sized efficiency apartments on the main house’s lower level, plus a large, detached studio apartment atop a garage/storage shed. All have kitchenettes, mini-fridges, ceiling fans and Wi-Fi. Air conditioning isn’t in the mix.


Bob said they have invested around $15,000 in their home solar-battery storage system to date. That includes having to rebuild an inverter twice following lightning strikes. In one instance, “we had the city power on, and it came in through the city power line,” Bob recounted. The other “was a close strike, and we didn’t have the power on, but it got us anyway.”


Though they still have to draw power from the grid — typically during the winter rainy season — Bob and Susan’s monthly utility bills have dropped significantly. The couple were paying around $225/month in utility bills in the high season when most or all of the apartments were rented.


With the newly configured solar PV-battery storage system, their monthly utility bill never exceeds $50. “And it’s more like zero during the summer, or $1, and that’s for the meter,” Bob told REW. “I can run the entire summer, when we might have one renter, on stored energy from the PV panels.”



Category/ies:Dominica News, News.
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