Tue | Nov 29, 2022

Moya-Mae Rose | Are solar systems a wise solution?

Published:Thursday | August 18, 2022 | 12:08 AM
Moya-Mae Rose
Moya-Mae Rose
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‘Electricity bills to go up’ …” or ‘Brace for high electricity bills …’ are among a few trending headlines, especially amid the Russia-Ukraine war, which, according to the World Bank, is on the path of causing the biggest price/commodity shock in 50 years.

Just as countries are about to retire from the pandemic era, inflation is now precipitating new challenges. Like the novel coronavirus engendered in 2020, inflation and energy prices, which have skyrocketed since the 1970s oil crisis, are now restricting lives and livelihoods. From rising utility costs to the unbearable price of gas and supply chain disruptions, people are grappling with the reality of trying to make ends meet with less disposable income.

Due to the war, the World Bank predicts a 50 per cent spike in energy prices and expects oil to average US$100 per barrel this year. This price is the highest oil has ever been since 2013. Moreover, even though the bank foresees a decline to US$92 next year, it may remain above the five-year average of US$60.

As a result of these war-induced challenges, energy security is now at the top of everyone’s agenda. However, these issues may provide the fillip the world needs to shift to low- or zero-carbon technologies and electric vehicles. As countries race to net zero to achieve ‘deep carbonisation’, one may question – when will we ever find a balance? For now, affordability, too, has become part of the global crisis. From economic growth to stagnant/low-level income to high inflation, more strategies would have to be implemented to cushion you from spiralling prices. However, it’s easier said than done.

Many believe that abandoning the grid is one of the best solutions. But is it? Although a crucial part of accomplishing a cleaner, more sustainable future for Jamaica, renewables can be costly for you, the country, and its investors. So, transitioning may also demand patience.

ADVANTAGES

Considering the increasing cost of oil, the world’s primary source of energy production, you can save if you opt for a solar system solution (hybrid, grid-tied or off-grid). Since most of Jamaica’s energy mix constitutes oil and gas, our dependence on these resources, which we have to import, causes frequent rate increases due to geopolitical shocks and economic conditions. Therefore, without your usual electricity bill, you should see a reduction in how much you pay for energy, thus reducing your overall monthly expenses.

Although the initial cost to purchase a solar energy system is relatively high, you will save substantially in the long term. Further, the cost of solar panels has declined considerably, and continues to do so with time as experts/companies pursue more affordable renewable energy solutions for their clients. Therefore, if your monthly bill is currently high, investing in a solar system could assist in reducing that expense.

Making the capital investment now means more manageable costs in the future. Adopting renewable energy (RE) solutions is also beneficial to the environment and crucial to achieving a cleaner, more sustainable future. Solar solutions also eliminate the effects of power outages and encourage you to conserve more – considering your efforts, including the time and money it takes to generate your power.

It also brings you closer to being a good environmental steward and reducing your carbon footprint. A more sustainable future starts with you, so taking the renewable route, plus other lifestyle changes like planting trees, eating what you grow or supporting sustainable brands, can make the difference.

DISADVANTAGES

First, one important fact to consider is the amount of energy you currently use. If you are utilising less than 200kWh, going solar may not be a wise move. In addition, the capital cost, or the investment required, to implement it may also become a game changer. Therefore, if your electricity bill is low or below average, recovering your initial investment may be long-term and detrimental if not managed properly, especially with the need for special financing.

In addition to the upfront cost for the panels and storage, the cost to install the system, maintenance, and space (for the storage of inverters and batteries, and other associated hardware) is also a crucial part of the planning process. Maintenance can include monitoring the solar inverters and servicing batteries. However, only flooded lead-acid batteries (older models) require servicing, but is now becoming a thing of the past. Instead, modern solar systems contain valve-regulated lead-acid or lithium-ion batteries. These batteries require minimal maintenance and come with a wireless monitoring system.

Additionally, you may need to factor in a limited power supply when going off-grid. Limitations of RE systems, such as cloud cover, changes in wind speed and other weather conditions, may affect your power generation or the output of your RE system. Therefore, you would have to rely on the grid for backup power. Fortunately, with battery storage, you can maximise the power you generate by storing what you don’t utilise during the day for use at night (peak hours). The result is minimum dependence on the grid, if at all. However, battery storage is expensive. Furthermore, many people can’t afford to install storage due to inflation and the rising cost of goods and services. Therefore, more pressure would fall on the national grid, since energy consumption is at its highest at night.

Moving away from the centralised grid can also contribute to a decline in energy demand, negatively impacting the utility and the pockets of other users. Utility charges include the cost to run their units (power plants), admin costs, and profits. When ratepayers go off-grid, the burden of these costs affects those who remain on the grid. In other words, a rate hike.

Installing a solar system at home is not all bad and not as expensive, with proper planning. The conversation should not focus on whether you should or should not leave the grid, but on optimising at an economical cost to you.

Moya-Mae Rose is public relations and digital marketing specialist at Jamaica Energy Partners. Send feedback to mrose@jamenergy.com.