Jamaica's Largest Solar Power Plant
Tom Lombardo posted on June 05, 2014 |

The largest solar power plant in Jamaica has recently been unveiled. The 1.6 megawatt photovoltaic array sits atop the Grand Palladium Resort in Hanover, and is expected to generate over 2.3 gigawatt-hours of energy each year, saving the hotel more than $700,000 (US) in annual electricity costs.


Hardware

With more than 6300 silicon PV panels and 67 grid-tied inverters, the resort generates about 10% of its own electricity, purchasing the rest from the grid. Grid-tied inverters are bidirectional but because the system is larger than 100 kW, it’s not eligible for net metering. Sofos, the company that installed the PV system, included blocking hardware - a one way “valve” so to speak - to ensure that the array doesn’t send energy out to the grid if it happens to generate more than it needs at any given moment. This makes the Grand Palladium the first self-consumption site in the Caribbean. (Self-consumption means that the hotel uses all of the electricity that it generates.)


The panels are fixed-mounted, facing due south, and tilted at 15 degrees, which is approximately the site’s latitude. The roof mounts and panels are capable of withstanding winds up to 155 mph, equivalent to a Category-4 hurricane.




Financial Incentive

The Grand Palladium Resort invested $3.4M in the array - just over $2 per watt. Although that’s a large investment, the local electricity rate of $0.3/kWh provides a lot of incentive and a very short payback period. They expect the array to pay for itself in about four years and produce $22M in electricity savings over the next 25 years. The same array in the US would probably have a ten year payback period, assuming current electric rates.


Distributed Generation

Jamaica’s total electrical production is only 880 MW, mostly generated by oil-burning power plants. Although they plan to convert their plants to natural gas, the fuel is imported (and non-renewable) either way. Solar and wind are two of Jamaica’s natural resources, so it makes sense for them to maximize their use.


The grid in Jamaica is small and inefficient, so adding more central power plants isn’t feasible without significant upgrades. This makes distributed generation and self-consumption crucial to the country’s energy future. Jamaican officials hope that the Grand Palladium serves as a model for other businesses to follow, not only to reduce energy bills but also to ease the stress on its declining grid. Other countries with aging grids and a reliance on fossil fuels (yeah, that’s pretty much everyone) should take notice.


Images courtesy of Sofos

Thanks to Raul Martinez Paris, Director General at Sofos, for providing additional information.





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