Tue | Nov 20, 2018

Rainforest adds more solar capacity

Published:Wednesday | April 4, 2018 | 12:00 AMNeville Graham/ Business Reporter
In this 2016 photo, the Rainforest Seafoods plant in Montego Bay is bedecked with solar panels. Rainforest is doubling its solar energy capacity at the complex under a $75m investment.

Seafood trader Rainforest is doubling solar energy capacity at its plant in Montego Bay, from 0.5 megawatt to one megawatt, at a cost of $75 million.

When the project is finalised in two to three months, Rainforest will possess the capacity to generate over 1.5 megawatts of solar power in Jamaica at its main complex in Montego Bay and its plant in Kingston.

The new photovoltaic (PV) or solar panels are being installed on a five-storey building that houses the company's free-standing freezer at Montego Freeport.

"When we first introduced PV systems in Kingston four years ago, it cost us about US$1.65 per watt of power installed. By the time we did MoBay two years after, that came down to about US$1.38 per watt. Now it is less than a dollar, so it's becoming far more attractive to go solar," said Rainforest CEO Brian Jardim.

The Kingston plant was outfitted with solar panels in 2014, followed by a second phase at the MoBay complex in 2016.

Altogether, the three phases represent a US$2-million investment, Jardim said, funding for which was secured through the window for renewable energy loans set up by the Development Bank of Jamaica, DBJ, but issued through lending institutions.

"The window provided by the DBJ means very good rates. It actually comes through the commercial banks at an interest rate of six or seven per cent. That makes good financial sense, if you ask me," Jardim said, who noted that at each stage of the project, the payback period on the investment has shortened.

"The payback period has come down from about six years in the first instance," he said. "For the second phase, the payback was about five years. Now it is about four years."

With the current project, all of Rainforest's main operating and administrative buildings would have been covered with photovoltaic arrays.

The company has also implemented other conservation methods to add to those savings, including more efficient compressors, and switching from freon gas to ammonia for cooling, and utilising LED lighting for the freezers and perimeters of the Rainforest complex.

"There is also a neat little set-up that saves us a lot of money, where we embed tubes at the base of the freezers, run glycol through that and distribute that to other areas where we need temperatures that are less than freezing - that is to say, chill rooms and so on," Jardim said.

neville.graham@gleanerjm.com