In the age of a rapidly increasing cost of living, what would you say to the possibility of using free electricity to power your home and business for the rest of your life?
It might seem far-fetched but solar power can use energy from the sun to power all your electrical appliances, including your air conditioning unit, at no cost to you. This not only saves you money but helps to protect the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions generated from the power sector.
Annually, the global power sector accounts for a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions. With world leaders racing to find ways to reduce emissions and save the planet from the impact of climate change, switching to solar power can be your contribution to the fight against climate change.
As a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), Trinidad and Tobago is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, having already recorded more intense heat, increased rainfall and coastal erosion among those effects.
T&T currently enjoys one of the lowest electricity rates in the Commonwealth, paying just $.033 per kilowatt.
However, the Government has signalled its intention to remove subsidies from the state-owned utility company T&TEC and rates are expected to increase in the coming months. That increase could see the cost of electricity doubling or tripling.
So, if you currently pay $500 every two months for your electricity supply, your new bill could be $1,000, or even $1,500 every two months. Many citizens may not be able to absorb the cost of this increase, as the COVID-19 pandemic has seen many lose their jobs or have their income significantly reduced.
But switching your supply to solar power can see your bill disappear altogether. Of course, the switch itself will cost you. But Sion Faria, the owner of SOESH Consultancy Ltd, told Guardian Media that cost is not as high as you might think. Faria said his company specialises in small, cost-efficient solar systems that can be used by homeowners to reduce their electricity costs.
A house using solar energy via a sola panel on the roof.
“The small systems are $8,000 and it’s not meant to run an entire house but it will be able to power your essential appliances,” Faria said.
The system comes with a solar battery that stores the energy generated by solar panels. These batteries can last up to five years and at present, cost $1,000 to replace.
Faria said a system that can completely power a three-bedroom family home, inclusive of air conditioning units, can cost between $60,000 to $70,000. He said Government policies in place to encourage citizens to switch to solar power include the removal of VAT and import duties on the importation of solar panels and rebates of up to $10,000 on the purchase of solar water heaters.
“It definitely has a long way to go, there are many improvements that should be made but it would take a lot of legislative change in order for those things to be done,” Faria said.
One of those changes includes the introduction of a grid-tied system, which would enable homeowners to send the excess solar power they generate in their homes back to the electrical grid.
“The solar system, when it’s finished charging the battery, it can run the power back to the grid, so your bill can now run in reverse and if you create enough energy for the month, the utility company will then have to pay you, instead of you getting a bill every two months, you would be getting money every two months,” Faria explained.
He said on a sunny day, solar systems can take three hours to fully recharge. Solar panels will continue to charge even if it is raining, Faria said.
“Even though we have cloudy days, the sun’s rays are still powerful enough to get a charge on these panels. It would not charge as quickly as a sunny day, but you would be able to get through the day. When rain is falling, usually the place is bright and it’s the brightness that charges the panels. If I was to put this solar panel under this light here, it would charge, it does not necessarily mean it needs sunlight to charge, it just needs light to charge.”
Irvin Davis, the owner of Davis Ecolife, told Guardian Media he offers customers a five-kilowatt system that can power an entire three-bedroom home for $60,000. Davis said the system comes with a full battery backup system.
But he said those aren’t the only options his company offers.
“There are also two, three, four, five kilowatt systems...anything the client requires in terms of their needs, what the demands are for the client and what they can afford,” Davis said.
He said his company usually integrates their systems with T&TEC systems in homes, so there is a seamless switch between the systems if there is an outage or the solar battery does not have a charge.
A solar panel.
“This is a fully off-grid system and we integrate it with T&TEC, if there is not enough battery capability, T&TEC would come in and cover the shortfall.”
Davis said if a homeowner decides to use a smaller system to power their essential appliances, they can save up to 60 to 70 per cent of their electricity bill.
He could not tell how widespread the use of solar power in T&T was but he said there can be policy changes from the Government to entice more homeowners to switch.
“Make accessing renewables an easier process for residential and commercial clients, a wear-and-tear allowance has been spoken about for years but no one has been able to access that. There are also programmes for funding of solar projects in rural areas but that is also not easy to access, those are some of the things that can be worked on,” Davis said.
As for those who are considering the switch, Davis’ advice is, “Just do it.”
“The motivation factor could be you are conscious about the environment and the warming of the planet and want to do what you can in your small way to mitigate that, or you are conscious about the impending increase in electricity rates. Or you could even just want a reliable source of power so you don’t have to worry about blackouts taking you off the grid- whatever it is, you should do it.”
What is solar power?
Solar power is created by using energy from the sun and converting that energy to thermal or electrical energy. It is the cleanest and most abundant renewable energy source available in the world. Electricity generated using non-renewable resources, such as coal, accounts for a quarter of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions, pushing Earth closer to the devastating impacts of climate change.
According to the United Nations, in order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, the world needs to move away from coal and towards clean power. The UN said this must be done five times faster than at present and shifting to solar and wind power will not only be cheaper than using electricity but can generate more jobs and give the planet cleaner air.
From October 31 to November 12, the Conference of Parties (COP26) summit will take place in Scotland, where world leaders will meet to announce how their countries are taking action to reduce their emissions and stop global warming.
Workers install solar panels at a photovoltaic power station in Hami in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, August 22, 2011.
Speaking on Monday during a pre-COP26 Public Seminar, Energy Minister Stuart Young discussed T&T’s path towards a green economy.
In addressing the power generation sector, Young said, “We have approved the establishment of a solar utility project which will generate 112.2 megawatts of electricity and for which we are hoping that construction will commence in 2022.”
Young said this will account for about ten per cent of current power requirements.
He said the intent behind this project was to increase the amount of power generated from renewables. He said wind energy will likely be harnessed to accomplish this.
“A wind resource assessment is currently being undertaken by the University of the West Indies and a private sector partnership. I do intend to explore more use of solar-powered electricity via additional initiatives and projects,” Young said.