by Vidyaratha Kissoon
“I would like to see a solar panel on every roof in Guyana” said Raphael Hazel. The bureaucracies around the Deeds Registry and the electricity company prevented Raphael from sorting out grid electricity for the house.
As a result, Raphael had to go completely off the grid with solar energy much earlier than he intended.
The house, the Anchorage, is one of the remaining wooden houses in Guyana. The windows and doors are surrounded by graceful trimmings of carved wood. There are wooden shutters which are mixed with glass windows. The shutters were specially designed for shade and cooling from the sun – the source of the energy which now powers the appliances in the house.
Solar energy refers to the heat and light energy from the sun. There is rapid interest in harnessing the energy to replace fossil fuels. The interesting news from around the world – large polluter China now has a floating solar farm on land which had been destroyed by mining, oil giant Saudi Arabia plans to be an exporter of solar energy, oil producer Norway’s has a 400% increase in solar energy installations, India has a solar powered airport – indicate the potential and interest in turning to the sun for light.
Barbados seems to be leading in the Caribbean. They have been encouraging the use of solar water heaters – needed especially for the tourism sector. Barbados has moved from the focus on the solar water heaters alone. A Canadian company, Deltro, plans to establish a factory to make solar panels and there will be a solar farm.
The Guyana Energy Agency (GEA) also has a campaign about solar water heaters. I visited their office to see what information was available to the public. The only solar brochure available was about solar water heaters.
Many Guyanese who are glad to get clean running water in their houses would probably wonder what the fuss is about – hot water is well, kind of a luxury still and people seem to make do without it.
However, there might be increasing prosperity and people who are considering hot water installations will buy solar water heaters.
Many Guyanese who are not enjoying the periods of intense heat would probably want the GEA to also invest in researching and supporting the development of solar cooling technology. The GEA had a demonstration project. There doesn’t seem to be other places in Guyana where appropriate solar technology is being researched.
Guyana’s experiments with solar
Way back in the 1980s, there was a house in Lamaha Gardens, Georgetown which was fully powered by solar. I could not find information about the house. Raphael Hazel did his undergraduate degree in physics at the University of Guyana. He did his final year project on solar energy and in 1994 published his research “Flat plate collector utilizability for Guyana” His supervisor, Mr L. P Langevine, worked with the Solar Unit at the Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology. Mr Langevine published other research related to the use of solar energy in Guyana at the time. It was clear that there was some attention being paid to gathering knowledge. IAST no longer seems to be interested in solar energy.
There have been other publicly funded projects since then. The GEA DRAFT Strategic Plan notes that there were 1,750 systems installed in 21 hinterland villages. There was an intention to install 16,580 more solar systems under the 2012 LCDS . Other citizens who could afford solar in the hinterland regions have been building. There is no mention of any assessments or studies of the results of the installations.
Raphael Hazel’s vision of a solar panel on every rooftop will now include State House. Business like Demerara Bank and Nand Persaud International Communications have invested in solar. There are some small businesses in interior locations have also invested in solar. The example of Ajay Bhyro from Bartica was reported in the Stabroek News. One organisation has had to move from solar to grid while waiting to replace the batteries. The organisation does not have the funding to replace the batteries which have reached the end of life period.
The University of Guyana might have a solar farm, but there it seems to offer no scope for research and education about solar energy. The other tech-voc institutions in Guyana do not seem to offer any courses.
Government and solar energy
The Guyana Energy Agency is responsible for implementing the Government’s policy on energy. The Draft Energy Policy lists the following intentions of the Government :-
Establish a transparent and streamlined process for evaluation and approval of energy projects. The aim is to facilitate private sector interest and confidence in participating in energy projects;
Encourage the installation of grid tied solar photovoltaic farms on lands that have low agricultural value;
Require that developers of solar photovoltaic farms consult with the local community before applying for planning permission;
Encourage the utilisation of local content by developers in the purchase of goods and services, and in the employment of labour;
Introduce fiscal incentive aimed at residential customers, commercial entities and developers to encourage the wide spread deployment of small, medium and large scale renewable energy technologies. For example,
a. Tax rebates that reduce the taxable income of purchasers by the costs of the technology;
b. Reduced duties free access at the port of entry;
c. Inclusion of the cost of the technology in home mortgages; and
d. Increased import duties and taxes on competitive technologies such as electric water heaters.
Support the GEA to construct pilot projects to demonstrate a residential scale and commercial scale grid tied (with and without battery backup) solar photovoltaic (PV). The aim is to demonstrate the technical and commercial feasibility and benefits of these technologies.
Government has some fiscal investments for installation of solar energy. According to the draft Strategic Plan for the Guyana Energy Agency “In 2012, Government of Guyana Zero-rated the VAT and made fully exempt from Import Duties, the following: “Machinery and equipment for obtaining, generating, and utilizing energy from renewable energy sources, including Solar panels, Solar Lamps, Deep-Cycle Batteries, Solar Generators, Solar Water heaters, Solar Cookers, DC Solar Refrigerators, DC Solar Freezers, DC Solar Air Conditioners, Wind Turbines, Water Turbines, Power Inverters, Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) and Light Emitting Diode (LED) Lamps. “
It seems that the zero rating from VAT has been removed, but the import duties are still relaxed.
The GEA will have the following objectives :-
GEA will continue to:
Develop and encourage the development and utilisation of sources of energy other than those sources presently in use.
Demonstrate, research and utilize solar photovoltaic technology as a source of renewable energy to meet energy needs where appropriate.
There is no mention of the formal training or certification available for persons interested in working on solar energy projects. There is no mention made of the adoption of quality standards for the solar energy sector.
“Solar-preneurship” in Guyana
Solar-preneur is a word I saw in a BBC article about African micro-businesses providing solar energy services. Guyana has recently awarded large contracts for Solar installations – one for 57 government builidings, and
One diaspora based company – Greenheart Tree Energy has provided an installation to the Paramakatoi Tomato project. There wasn’t any information available on the financial arrangements. A Swiss/German company meeco won the contract for State House and has recently won a larger contract for 57 Government buildings.
It isn’t clear from the public information what kind of capacity would be left after the installation for local services in Guyana. Who will be responsible for maintenance? Is there potential for other micro-grid systems?
Raphael Hazel has created a company Blueberry Solar which provides solar energy installation services. He hoped to make a company in Guyana which would reconstruct solar panels from the broken chips. He has worked on one installation and will work on others. He has not bid for any projects as yet. He is waiting for some training from the Small Business Bureau about how small businesses could bid for the large Government contracts.
Clean and green?
Solar energy though might be clean, but the manufacture of the panels, the manufacture and disposal of the batteries all have some environmental impact. According to a National Geographic article, the ‘cheap solar panels’ from China come with higher carbon footprints than those from other places where environmental regulations are more stringent. The recycling of solar panels might not be economically feasible since the panels have long life. The life of batteries is shorter, and there are going to be problems with end of life use.
Raphael does not advocate that solar energy means abundant cheap energy. He recommends that managing his own installation means managing his consumption. The appliances have to be energy efficient. There have to be plans for rainy days and for night time. He prefers these limitations though, to relying on the main grid. He has plans to build a demonstration house which has been designed to be energy efficient and which would use solar energy.
He hopes to keep educating the public so that there will be increased usage of solar energy in Guyana.
(On Saturday 24 June, 2017 , STEM Guyana will be hosting a Robotics Exhibition at the Cliff Anderson Sports Hall from 10am. There are plans to have a booth from a private company about solar energy. )