Solar 101- Critical Considerations
With the high cost of energy in the Cayman Islands finding solutions to offset these costs is a universal desire for consumers. That said, understanding the pros and cons of investing in solar panels for your home or business can be quite a daunting task. As with most things in life, not all solar panels or solar panel providers are created equal and often there are so many unanswered or unknown questions it is difficult for consumers to make an informed decision.
Words by James Whittaker, Director for Green Tech Cayman.
Like any good investment your primary concerns when investing in solar should be the overall Return on your Investment (ROI) and the risks involved.
In Cayman the most popular method of utilising solar power is through connecting to the grid via CUC's CORE programme, based on the existing rates today, a good quality solar system can provide consumers a 12%-20% return per annum with 200-400% return over the life of the system and should have a 20-25 year warranty.
In addition, property owners should ensure their insurance covers the system for peril or storm damage. The combination of iron clad warranties and proper insurance coverage make investing in a high-quality solar energy system an ultra low risk investment.
Don't be fooled by quick payback periods (i.e.- how fast do I make my initial investment back) as your primary reason for making a decision to invest in solar. Not all solar panels are created equal and some providers can be clever in their projections and use this as the primary selling point. This can be misleading as an indicator of a good investment.
For example, you might decide to invest in a cheaper solar system for $10,000 that paid back in four years versus a more expensive system at $15,000 of better quality that pays back in six years. However, because the cheaper system lacks the technology and quality of the better system its power degrades over time much faster, you may have an overall return of $30,000 on the cheap system while the more expensive system might give you an overall return of $60,000. So in deciding to save $5,000 up-front you might have cost yourself tens of thousands
of dollars. That's assuming you also don't have quality problems with the cheaper product over that time period as well.
The best solar panels on the market today have power outputs ranging from 300-400 watts per panel with approximately 20% efficiency ratings and come with 25-year warranties on the products and the power production.
Degradation rate (the rate which the power declines over time from year one to year 25) is also critical, as it will affect the return on your solar investment dramatically. The best panels in the industry today have a degradation rate of 0.18-0.35% whereby the worst performing panels on the market typically being in the 1.0% range and above.
The overall durability and build quality should be appropriate for Cayman's hot, humid, salty and hurricane prone climate. A low cost Asian made panel may be very appropriate for their environment but may not be the most appropriate for our unique environment here in the Caribbean.
Selecting the right product is key but so is selecting the right provider to design and install it. There may be providers out there who simply sell solar as a side business to their regular day-to-day business and thus do not specialise in solar. You'll want to ensure no matter what the case, that your provider can demonstrate that they have extensive experience in designing and installing quality solar systems.
The best-case scenario is that your provider is an authorised dealer for whatever products he or she is selling. Its much easier and less risky to invest in a system where the dealer is factory trained and is responsible for servicing the warranty; as opposed to someone who has no factory training and may not be an authorised dealer; in that case it may leave you as the client trying to collect on warranty issues directly from an overseas manufacturer if something goes wrong.
Finally, don't be afraid to ask to see performance figures of past installations and request to speak with previous clients. You should also try to verify that the systems your provider has installed previously are performing the way they said it would. Be very wary if providers cannot or will not provide evidence to back up the claims of their products and/or of their prior installations for clients.
For more information visit: www.greentechsolar.ky
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