Solar would save Jamaica US$1,200m each year

Solar would save Jamaica US$1,200m each year

A case for building a Jamaican solar industry — Part 3 (cont’d)


Sunday, April 12, 2015

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WHAT is the equipment cost for this massive over-abundance of solar and wind we talked about last week?

The 700MW of solar energy would cost some US$1,400 million, give or take, or about 14 months of imported electricity fuel savings. Another 700MW of large-scale wind would be a little cheaper, but for this simple exercise let's keep them the same cost. So, that means US$2,800 million, all told, for both, with no storage necessary.

That's all? you might be asking yourself. Less than two years' worth to have the solar and wind turbines producing? And another two years of fuel bill savings to pay back the loan entirely and jettison this millstone forever? This must be a mistake.

Do the math yourself.

The lesson is: Don't skimp. Be aggressive with the quantity of installations. It is well worth it. Overproduce! The excess energy can drive economic growth through new businesses and possibly new heavy-duty manufacturing, including smelting.

What would be the resultant customer charges for electricity? Would they be higher than they are now?

Solar irradiation in Jamaica, even after accounting for cloudy periods, is slightly more than 12 hours per day on average availability; so that's a 50 per cent power-capacity factor. Solar-PV equipment life now easily exceeds 30 years for tier-one panels (superior quality panels with long life). Using the 2014 prices and usage factors, and assuming loan financing at 10 per cent interest rate, this equates to below US$0.10 per kilowatt-hour to generate electricity. Add JPS transmission and other charges of US$0.15, for a total charge of US$0.25 per kWh max to the customer. On-site generation for larger users could therefore be well below US$0.15 cents, since there would be no transmission or delivery charges.

Wind turbines now run at near 50 per cent capacity factor for newly built turbines above two MW sizes -- up to eight MW sizes which are now commonplace. Equipment life is normally 20 years. At the same 25 per cent realistic usage factor, and similarly financed, the cost of wind generation is similar to that of solar -- an overall US$0.25 cents per kWh for this wind-and-solar combination.

Since 1,400MW total capacity of solar and wind newly installed turbines and only 350MW is needed on average, overall capacity factor is 25 per cent. That's easily met since either wind or solar can supply up to 50 per cent capacity factor at always overlapping times.

A shocking outcome? We've solved our problem for the next 40 years and have put our country on a growth path to boot.

So Jamaica would save over US$1,200 million every year and still chop our electricity rates almost in half you ask?

Absolutely! And never suffer another scheduled power cut. And still have enough power left over to supply Alcoa (Jamalco), Alpart and Windalco at bargain rates. So there would be no need to ever close these plants again. We need the jobs (and the elusive company taxes). We can now attract more of these mega-plants with ultra-cheap excess power offerings, maybe at US$0.05 cents per kWh. The extra revenue from these new power sales will more than compensate for the lost JPS revenue from the increased incidence of small-scale solar self-generation at residences. We could save the US$1,200 million it is costing us each and every year for JPS to import fuel, and could use it to improve the lives of our citizens instead.

And that is just one equipment scenario that I've demonstrated. There are other variations on this, though I'm of the view that it is best to subscribe to 'keep it simple, stupid' formula. You meet your objective when kept simple.

David Cooke is a UWI-trained electrical engineer who runs enterprises in Jamaica that use large amounts of electricity, not least his own food-processing business that relied heavily on freezing and cold-storage operations. He is now a budding independent clean energy developer.


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