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This Is Real Independence

By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor

THE Bahamas “could actually get rid of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation” in 10 years if it fully committed to financing and installing renewable energy throughout this nation, executives from a leading company in the field said yesterday, with this country “virgin territory that is significantly behind many other Caribbean countries”.
Speaking after signing a $305,964 contract with the Government to supply and install solar water heaters and solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in several Bahamian homes, senior officials from Alternative Power Sources (APS), which has operations in Jamaica and Bermuda besides this nation, urged the Bahamas to “get on with it” and implement net metering legislation to make solar PV systems more affordable to a wider Bahamian market.
Guilden Gilbert, the well-known Bahamas-based insurance executive, who has headed APS’s Bahamian operation since it was incorporated in November 2008, told Tribune Business that the introduction of net metering legislation – something that would allow Bahamian businesses/residences to sell excess power produced by their PV systems back to the BEC grid, and receive a credit for it – would enable those renewable energy users to enjoy an even greater instant return on their investment than was currently available.

Pointing to a PV system that APS had installed for a private home in the Charlotteville subdivision in western New Providence, Mr Gilbert said: “We saw that client today, and he said his latest BEC bill, and he’s now running the AC in the home, was $87.

“The system we have in there runs everything apart from the AC and the electrical dryer. If he had not had the PV system, I’d estimate his BEC bill would have been somewhere in excess of $350. So on a $20,000 investment, he’s starting to see a return right away.”

Mr Gilbert said the Charlotteville resident had received a 3.5 kilowatt (KW) system that generated between eight to nine hours worth a day, and was installed in four days. Installations, he added, usually took three days, as in this case they were working with a very small area.

The APS (Bahamas) executive contrasted the economics of the company’s PV system with that of a generator, which Bahamians usually relied on to cope with BEC’s power outages.
With some $15,000-$20,000 typically spent on the purchase and installation of a 15-20 KW generator, Mr Gilbert said Bahamians would “never get a return, as BEC is not down as many hours as you think. You don’t get a return on generation, and have to buy diesel for it.

“PV systems have power 100 per cent of the time, and offset what you’re taking from BEC. There are no moving parts, there’s minimal maintenance of the system, so you start getting a return from day one. Our client effectively moved into his home before they got BEC power in Charlotteville.”

Yet a critical obstacle to the take-off of solar PV system use, and the expansion of renewable energy in the Bahamas in general, was the absence of legislation or policy support for net metering in the Bahamas.
“We are hoping to fairly soon have legislative support for net metering, which was mentioned today [yesterday] during the contract signing by the Minister [Phenton Neymour],” Mr Gilbert told Tribune Business. “Even without legislative support, if BEC as a policy did net metering and allowed people with PV systems to sell power back to the grid, BEC can sell that on to other rate payers, so essentially it is getting power for free.

“When we install a PV system now, we programme the inverters to retain all the power in the home. Once the battery is full, the excess power is not used. We don’t have legislative support to send it out of the home, and don’t show the client how to programme the inverter to do so. That will only happen with legislative support.”
APS, which has its roots in Jamaica, will supply and oversee the installation of 134 solar water heaters and 33 PV systems under the IDB contract, having already put some five to six such water heaters in private Bahamian residences.
Mr Gilbert added that the company also had “a couple of other projects in the pipeline”, including a solar water heater client on West Ridge. APS  will also provide solar water heater and PV systems for a real estate project in southern New Providence being contemplated by Debby Deal of Contemporary Builders, along with solar street lighting and solar garden lighting.

“The Bahamas is virgin territory,” Mr Gilbert said, when it came to renewable energy. “If you look around, the number of people using renewable energy is significantly less than 1 per cent, so this market has nowhere else to go but up.”
To ease the way into renewable energy, Mr Gilbert recommended that Bahamian households and businesses target solar water heaters first, as their installation could slash electricity bills by between 10-30 per cent, depending on usage.
PV systems could come later, Mr Gilbert explaining that their construction was modular in nature and that they could be sized according to the available financing.

“A client could save 100 per cent and not have a BEC bill,” he added of the PV system’s cost-saving potential.
“If the commitment was there, the Bahamas could actually get rid of BEC in a 10-year period. If the financial commitment was there, and the commitment to be a clean energy, energy efficient country was there.”
Mr Gilbert described the Bahamas’ renewable energy potential as “unlimited”, adding: “It’s an emerging market when it comes to renewables. A lot of people are still sceptical as to whether it works or not, but clearly it works.”
Damian Lyn, APS’s Jamaica-based managing director with 25 years’ experience in the renewable energies industry, including the installation of Jamaica’s first wind turbine, told Tribune Business: “I think the Bahamas is significantly behind many of the Caribbean countries. If you look at Barbados, it is pushing out water heaters, and we’ve done 250 PV system installations in Jamaica.”

Mystic Mountain, an Ocho Rios-based entertainment/theme park, is not on Jamaica’s electricity grid, Mr Lyn added, running entirely off renewable energy systems supplied by APS.

Source: Voices Bahamian



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