FACED WITH a very high electricity bill, the American International School of Kingston (AISK) has made the bold move to go virtually completely solar.
Since the institution made the switchover in June and are now operating mainly on the solar photovoltaic system, which captures the sun's energy using photovoltaic cells and converts it to electricity, it has seen a vast difference.
"The benefits are definitely amazing. The savings are quite significant. It is definitely worth our while," revealed Director of Admissions Indira Couch.
"The school is a nine-acre campus that offers 21st century education, so we draw a lot of energy because we have integrated technology in our teaching, air-conditioned classes and so on. So because of our high electricity consumption, given our advanced learning environment, we had to do something. We began to look at renewable energy resources and we thought solar was the best option."
AISK's 100-killowatt photovoltaic system features 400 250-watt solar panels covering 7,000 square feet, five Schneider-Electric 20-kilowatt grid-tie inverters, a racking system to hold the panels in place, electricity interconnections and a remote monitoring system that allows for real-time observation.
How it works
"This monitoring system shows the amount of energy created, it tells you exactly what it is doing and it stores all its history so you know what it is doing at this moment. It will also tell you what it has done - hour by hour, month by month, year by year - as well as how much carbon dioxide you have saved, and so on," Project Manager Paul Stockhausen told The Gleaner.
"The monitoring system is also a great teaching aid for the children, where they can visibly see what renewable energy can do."
Stockhausen said the innovative, sophisticated system generates 170,000-kilowatt hours per year, translating into savings of approximately US$60,000 per annum.
Credited for its cutting-edge education model, AISK has become the first school in Jamaica with a system of this magnitude.
The project serves as a further extension of the school'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.
Outside of the obvious savings on the electricity bill, the solar energy system also offers several other benefits, among them greatly reducing the school's carbon footprint.
"There are so many other environmental impacts from this. We have already started recycling, re-using water, and creating a paperless network, so this latest initiative enhances our 'go green philosophy', noted Couch.
JPS net billing service
And with the Jamaica Public Service's recent net billing service, this move was timely. 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.
AISK's solar photovoltaic project was the brainchild of the school board, headed by Chairman Peter Melhado, with consultation from Stockhausen, an engineer who is an expert in the field. It was largely funded by a loan from the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ), through Sagicor Jamaica Bank. DBJ finances large, strategic development projects in a number of sectors, including energy/alternative energy solutions.
Alternative Power Sources Ltd was contracted to undertake the project.
"Our solar energy system has sparked the interest of other international schools," said Couch.
Stockhausen advised, "More persons really should be going this route, and the DBJ loans that are available for it are very attractive. People should take up the loan."