Solar-powered learning

BY DEVARO BOLTON Observer writer

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

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THE American International School of Kingston (AISK), with its 21st century education model, has taken another step forward with the installation of a solar photovoltaic (PV) system at the institution.


A PV system converts sunlight into electricity. Among its integral components are the solar panels, inverters, a racking system to hold the panels in place, and electric interconnections.


Boasting 400 250-watt solar panels, covering 7,000 square feet, in addition to five Schneider-Electric 20-kilowatt grid-tie inverters, AISK has become the first school in the island with a system of this magnitude.


Project Manager Paul Stockhausen says it will greatly reduce the school's carbon footprint and save it approximately 48 per cent of current electricity requirements. Incidentally, with the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) recently implementing a net billing service, the AISK installation could not have come at a better time. Net billing allows customers who own renewable energy generators to save on cost, in addition to 'selling' excess energy to the light and power company at prices set by the Office of Utilities Regulation.


For AISK the savings alone will translate to about US$60,000 per annum.


In addition to its cost-cutting feature, the project serves as a further extension of AISK's modern approach to education, which facilitates global classrooms, enhances life-long learning and the use of technologies and multimedia, as well as creates a sustainable, 'green' environment.


Having already started campaigns related to recycling, re-using water, and creating a paperless network, the latest initiative serves as an advancement of its "go green" philosophy.


The project was the brainchild of the AISK, board, headed by Chairman Peter Melhado with consultation from Stockhausen, an engineer with decades of experience. The group was forced to re-evaluate the school's energy profile, given high electricity consumption from its provision of a learning environment equipped with technologies like projectors and air-conditioning units in every classroom.


The concept has been in the pipeline for some time, Melhado said, but it was catapulted into reality with a loan from the Development Bank of Jamaica which finances large, strategic development projects in a number of sectors including, luckily, for AISK, energy/alternative energy solutions.


Melhado told the Jamaica Observer that the project is a great long-term investment which was pretty costly in its initial stages. The DBJ loan compensated for approximately 70 per cent of the capital needed to get the project off the ground, a contribution he counts as invaluable.


Another invaluable contribution will be the impact of the school's most important assets — its students. Even before the final touches were made, those from Grades two to 11 got a demonstration of how the PV system works and it will stand as a practical example for years to come.


"The use of solar energy, renewable resources and conservation feature prominently throughout our curriculum, therefore this provides the opportunity for them to have a practical representation of alternative power in use," said Sylvia Browne, curriculum coordinator.


According to Byron Ward, business manager of Alternative Power Sources Ltd — the company contracted to bring the idea to life — AISK are the recipients of the very first installation of the Schneider-Electric Conext TL-20000, 3-phase 415V grid-tied inverter in this hemisphere, which includes the Caribbean and Latin America. He added that it is the first official 100kW solar PV grid-tied system to be accepted on the JPS-OUR Standard Offer Contract and Net Billing Licence agreement, where 100kW is the maximum allowable power output.


Having been involved with the project from the 'get go', successfully completed all drawings and technical specifications required for the acceptance of the system and the integration with the grid by JPS and the Government Electrical Inspectorate, Ward and APS are very excited.


A remote monitoring system has also been installed that will allow persons to see real-time numbers of the energy-saving initiative. The system is fully operational and should be in full use once school resumes for the next academic year.


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