Alternative energy gadgets on show

FOR something so technologically advanced, it sure looks antiquated. On closer inspection, however, you realise that where it loses points in physical appearance, it makes up for it in its remote control capacity and multiple USB ports.

It’s a solar-powered radio equipped with a 20W photovoltaic panel. It comes with two light fixtures and acts as a phone-charging station.

ROWE… the price of PV panels are falling
(L-R) Solar-powered flashlights and Solar-powered garden lamps(PHOTOS: KARL MCLARTY)

SILENCE… the first brand that we carried — Sunset — was more expensive than the Hyundai brand that we got recently

A 20W solar-powered radio was among the gadgets on show at the Jamaica Alternative Energy Association’s expo at the Pegasus yesterday and Mnday. (PHOTO: KARL MCLARTY)

“It can pick up any local station,” sales agent at Icon Renewables Karen Silence brags.

The radio is among a line of solar gadgets on the market which range from flashlights and garden lamps to A/C units and water heaters to photovoltaic panels themselves. The gamut of products was on show at the Jamaica Alternative Energy Expo at the Pegasus hotel in Kingston yesterday and Monday. And, according to exhibitors, the interest in and use of them have been growing.

Much of that, as senior research officer at the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) Camille Rowe sees it, is a result of increasing affordability of the various systems.

“The price of PV panels are falling, and they fall at a very fast rate,” she said in a presentation at the expo on Monday. “The last time we checked we were seeing between US$3,500/kW and US$4,200/kW for grid-tied systems… For the stand-alone systems, we’re seeing between US$8,000/kW and US$10,000/kW, and that’s because of the expense of the battery.”

The battery is the most expensive item you’ll find in a PV system, she said.

Icon Renewables, retailers based in Westmoreland, concurred.

“I can attest to that because the first brand that we carried — Sunset — was more expensive than the Hyundai brand that we got recently. Those are way cheaper; about 40-50 per cent cheaper per wattage compared to the Sunset brand, and it’s more sophisticated in terms of lighting capacity and the amount of energy carried,” Silence told the Jamaica Observer.

Rowe said the drop has been noticed particularly over the last two years, and said it was perhaps linked to the increasing number of cheaper products coming out of China.

Whatever the reason, a fall in the price of renewable energy projects is good news for consumers who, by virtue of escalating electricity prices alone, are becoming increasingly conscious of energy efficiency. The PCJ officer said, however, that it is important to note that not all systems are alike and there is no one-size-fits-all model when it comes to designing PV systems. Of critical importance too, she said, is that cheapest doesn’t necessarily mean best.

“The cheapest solution could mean that you’re not getting the best quality products and it’s very important to get the best quality (because) you’re looking at a 25-year investment. The quality is absolutely critical to what you get from the system and how long it will last,” she said.

Among the other things she said were important for consumers to consider when designing PV systems were location, the temperature at which the system operates, shading, the integrity of roofing structure (including lifespan, hurricane preparedness and warranty), the orientation and tilt of the roof, and consumption needs or load profile.

“Load profile is very important, and that is something that you really need to understand to see what the performance of your PV system will be. Ask about it and measure your load to see what your typical consumption pattern is and then the system should be based on that and not a generic (model).

“The load profile is not a one-size-fits-all solution. You will not get the same payback for commercial as against residential systems. We have found that a commercial load…the payback is roughly 6.6 years, but for a residential system it can rise to over 10 years depending on your load profile,” said Rowe.

She advised, too, that prior to investing in a PV system, consumers get structural engineer to assess their roofs to ensure its integrity. The roof should have at least five to seven years of life at the time of installation, she said.

The orientation and tilt of the roof are important things to consider, with 18 degrees being ideal, and systems should face south to maximise output.

Rowe noted that although Bureau of Standards Jamaica has not yet developed standards for PV systems in Jamaica, the PCJ uses international standards.