Timely solar power experiences
Over the year-end holidays, Sheila Manderson, one of the island’s most well known-former chief executives at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, was back with her husband for a visit from her California home near Napa Valley, where they are well settled.
In addition to their first-hand reports on the disastrous impact that the wild fires had on areas near them, Sheila conveyed to Mike Murphy, and later me in a phone conversation, some very positive experiences they had in keeping abreast of the latest California solar power developments that we all read about.
California, through the Governor and an Act of the legislature, has established an ambitious goal of relying entirely on zero-emission energy sources for its electricity by the year 2045.
You can see from Mrs Manderson’s description below of going solar in California to produce electricity for their household needs how it can be done efficiently with savings when compared with their former bills before adopting solar if there is proper co-operation from the solar providers, the power company and the regulatory authority working together to provide appropriate options and solutions to fit the individual needs.
The agreements necessary to accomplish this result became the standard in California, were pre- approved, relied on and enforced by all the parties involved in the process.
“To summarise our experience with SolarCity, now Tesla, we found the process relatively easy once the decision was made to use solar energy. I think that was because their programme was very well organised with specific steps to follow and milestones to be achieved along the way.
“Once contacted, their representative visited us in our home to explain the process and answer any questions that we had.
“We had to submit past PG&E bills that would indicate our electricity-usage history so they could figure out the panelling that would be required to generate sufficient energy to meet our needs. This was accomplished using a satellite aerial survey of our roof and a computerised program application.
The next step was a physical assessment of our home to determine the mechanical design and location of the various parts of the system. Once this was done, we received a copy of the design and purchase costs or lease options.
“SolarCity had to get approval from PG&E for the design and hook-up of the system before installation.
“From the payback perspective, given our ages, we decided on a 20-year lease rather than upfront purchase of approximately $50,000, even though there was at the time a rebate offer of $15,000 by the State of California.
“There was an understanding that PG&E would continue to send a monthly bill to us, which would reflect the difference between what the system generated and what PG&E supplied — sometimes positive and sometimes negative; the difference to be reconciled once a year.
“We estimate that the amount saved overall approximates $1,000 to $1,500 annually. While that’s not a lot of money, we are strong proponents of the system from an environmental perspective, as it is very much consistent with the State of California’s goals for a greener environment.
“Additionally, we were given the ability to connect with the SolarCity monitoring system on our personal computer and are able to, on any given time, monitor our usage ourselves.”
Bermuda’s power company Belco, the independent Regulatory Authority of Bermuda and the government Department of Energy need to work together to choose a good comparable model to follow and to adopt a well-conceived plan to balance our power needs with the rapid growth and advancement of renewables already adopted in many locations in the world today.
The island of Kauai in Hawaii, with a comparable population sunshine and power requirements of 120MW, may be another place to look for a model to emulate.
In the past few weeks, Kauai power company has made agreements with solar-battery companies to provide power through power purchase agreements — most recently a 9 to 11 cents per kilowatt-hour option, including battery storage.
Belco’s power purchase agreement with Saturn is 10.3 cents per kWh, but significantly without the battery storage. Already, 35 per cent of Kauai’s energy comes from solar and batteries.
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Another innovative and revolutionary development in place is the new Nisson Leaf, which will be in production at the end of this year. It offers an increased battery storage pack in the car, plus the ability to plug the pack into your home and the grid, and/or to receive the electricity built up in the pack through a variety of sources, including solar from your roof.
It may make the homeowner more independent of fossil fuels, if used appropriately with some ingenuity, and become the battery back-up for running the home without the need of generators after hurricanes that knock out the electricity supply or used in peak periods in lieu of costly fossil fuels to satisfy the air-conditioning summer needs of a homeowner.
We need to have the key persons determining our power needs for the island in the future to meet and review these and other ideas, and act together to choose the best, most stable, cost-effective and long-lasting solutions to Bermuda’s power needs before considering a huge investment in a likely outdated solution involving fossil fuels.
The best ideas should be openly shared with the public in the most transparent manner.
• Sir John Swan, a businessman, was the former Premier of Bermuda between 1982 and 1995, and a former Belco board member. Michael Murphy, a former attorney for American International Group, was the chairman of the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers between 1985 and 2005