ATL saves big with solar

BY KIMONE THOMPSON Associate editor - features thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, June 06, 2014

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SINCE it installed solar equipment on the roofs of its newest showrooms at Oxford Road, St Andrew, in the latter half of last year, ATL Automotive has seen its monthly electricity bills decrease by more than half.

Speaking at the ATL/Panasonic energy forum at ATL Autohaus Wednesday evening, managing director of the ATL Industrial group Danville Walker said the result has surpassed expectations.

"Our light bill went from about $1.1 million down to less than $500,000 -- about $400-and change -- and it was greater than what we expected," he said.

"In any business today the energy cost is a serious component, and it's hard to imagine how you can plan for your future as a business without addressing your energy costs. It begins with conservation practices, then you reduce your energy footprint," Walker continued.

Jamaica has been dogged by high energy costs over the years, spending $2.2 billion on petroleum imports last year alone. Government alone pays $14 billion on electricity bills every year.

But in a move which is consistent with the eco-conscious practices of sister brand Sandals resorts, ATL Auto entered a
$25-million deal with Panasonic Latin America to have the roofs of the Audi and Volkswagen showrooms lined with HIT photovoltaic cells, covering an area of about 500m2, and providing 58.8 kW of energy.

The system supplies 30 per cent of the company's needs.

News of ATL's savings pleased energy minister, Phillip Paulwell, who said the company was leading by example in using the products it sells.

"That is where we have to go as a country and Kelly (Tomblin, President and CEO of Jamaica Public Service) and I agree. With $0.40 per kWh we can't survive. We have to get the price of electric energy down, and I believe that we can get it to $0.20 over time, and we do have a plan to achieve that starting, of course, with the diversification of the various sources... because we have been stuck on a single source for too long," Paulwell
said Wednesday.

"The first fuel that we can utilise is that which we don't use: Conservation," the minister said, explaining that he no longer wears suits in his office, but takes advantage of the tropic climate which the country experiences.

"We have to take off the suits and go a lot more informal... Every year we pay $14 billion to the JPS, (but) we have to cut that, and it has to start with conservation," he added.

Still on the subject on conservation, Paulwell pointed to the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Programme that was rolled out across sections of the public sector last year.

"It's a $2-billion-dollar project which, when we're through, we intend to save somewhere about 15 per cent," Paulwell said.

Already, he said, the signs are encouraging. He used as examples the Civil Aviation Authority, the National Housing Trust (NHT), the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) and Spanish Town Police Station, where solar control films were applied to the windows. After 10 months, energy consumption at the former was cut by 25,000 kWh, representing savings of $3.3 million, while the NHT's consumption fell by 87,000 kWh, or savings of $3.5 million for the year. At the DBJ, after eight months, consumption was reduced by 49,000 kWh representing savings of $2 million and the Spanish Town Police Station recorded a reduction in consumption of 6,700 kWh after five months, equivalent to savings of $271,000.

"We're hoping this will become a model, not just for the rest of government, but across the private sector and in our homes," the minister said.

Wednesday's forum was intended to encourage consumers to make use of conservation technologies and make the switch from fossil fuel-generated energy to renewable alternatives, primarily solar.

Apart from ATL -- which carries a wide range of energy solutions such as solar panels, LED bulbs and appliances with inverter technology, the forum featured executives from Panasonic, the Jamaica Public Service, and two financial entities which offer loans for commercial and residential energy development, namely the DBJ and Jamaica Money Market Brokers (JMMB).

The DBJ offers secured loans of up to $200 million at a rate of 9.5 per cent for eight years for residential purposes. Manager of loan origination Tracy-Ann McIntosh said the bank's loan portfolio in 2014 stands at $656 million, up from $175 million in 2010. JMMB, meanwhile, lends unsecured amounts with a repayment period of up to 10 years.

But Minister Paulwell feels more commercial lenders should be in the renewable energy market.

"Why can't our people have greater access to credit? Why don't we see an explosion in the commercial banking sector? People, it makes sense; you're paying back in four years for the investment. It is a commercially viable prospect," he said.

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