FOSTER...we are encouraging developers to include the cost of a solar system in the house cost. (Photo: Jason Tulloch)
FosRich pushing affordability to improve take-up

MORE Jamaicans are eyeing solar energy as an option to escape escalating electricity bills. But, for the average Jamaican a solar unit is costly. Some residential units costs in excess of half a million dollars. However, managing director of FosRich Cecil Foster said his team has been working to make solar energy options more affordable for Jamaicans. Speaking at the Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE) Regional Conference on investment and the capital markets, Foster disclosed the strategies FosRich has already started to implement to make solar energy cheaper.

“Residential is always going to be a lot more popular but affordability is the concern and this is why we say that we are working with financiers to finance the uptake of this thing from the market and also we are working with developers. On the commercial side, they recognise that it is a viable product for their business and so we are installing right now in commercial spaces,” he noted.

He's urging developers to include solar energy systems in the cost of their units so that it is not added as an additional cost to homeowners after they have secured their mortgage.

“We are encouraging developers to include the cost of a solar system. For instance at FosRich, we have a six-kilowatt system which is just about $600,000 and we are installing those systems in houses that are being built in St Ann. So, the proposed owner of the house will see that this thing is working and will say yes, I want the solar system in my house and that cost will be added on to your house cost and it can be amortised over the 20 or 35 years. We see a number of persons are looking at that. We have one development right now they are building about 300 units and we have already started installing in some of the houses there.”

He explained that the price tag for solar system varies and largely depends on the amount of kilowatt being generated by the unit.

“If you're talking about the residential scale it can be from a three-kilowatt system which may be about $200,000 and then you add on the cost of installation based on where you are. A five-kilowatt system is a little over $500,000 and that can take off 380 kilowatts per month,” said Foster.

He continued: “A lot of people use between 350 and 500 kilowatts per month and so you'd be taking maybe almost all of your unit off. It is also to note that these are hybrid systems so they can work on and off the grid and then you can add your battery. The batteries that we sell are stock-able, so within a two-year period you could have a 10-kilowatt system to take you off the grid totally.”

He also stressed that the cost for the solar system is a one-time payment while noting that “the maintenance is minimal, once you have good enough rain and you don't have too much birds around the place then your panels are kept clean. There's no battery servicing, the system can tell you what is happening to it before it happens because it's AI controlled. In fact, the system is one of those that if something goes wrong with the inverter we don't fix it for you, we replace it.”

But going solar is not without its challenges, especially with the logistic challenges plaguing supply chains across the world.

“Being a tier one partner of Huawei we have developed a pipeline and a demand line nearshore. So we have the products nearshore in Panama or Mexico. So, within two to three weeks we can get the products here. There are specialised products that we will bring in straight if we do not have them in inventory, but we have a regional partner that is responsible for carrying the products so chances are if it is not in Panama nearshore warehouse it would be in the Mexican space. We make a yearly pipeline commitment. At present we carry inventory in stock that is replenished each time we sell,” Foster assured.

However, foster admitted that “difficulties might happen in this quarter to the next quarter, but for now we think we are seeing that we can hurdle that better than a lot of other people.”

In the meantime, Foster has vowed to increase the number of technicians on the island who are able to install solar systems by training over 100 installers.

“We have the technical knowledge and we work with Huawei to bring this knowledge to Kingston, Montego Bay and in the east. We are training these people who are electricians, people who are out there in the field, it could be even air condition persons. We're training them so when they go out there they can have knowledge of the product, how to service it, how to troubleshoot and they can also themselves add it as a revenue driver to their business line. Plus, we are in charge of the resellers so the people who are selling these inverters in Jamaica we are responsible to speak with them and show them the advantage of carrying the solar inverters from Huawei and we don't compete against them because they are our partners in bringing it to the market,” Foster stressed.

Jamaica has set a target of achieving 33 per cent of electricity generation from renewables by 2030 and 50 per cent by 2037.

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BY ANDREW LAIDLEY Senior business reporter

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