Solar Power for a Caribbean estate

In early December I had the chance to make a quick trip to the Caribbean to help with the installation of a 12 kW PV system on the island of Saint Kitts. I thought the story of the trip might make a good blog post, so here you go.

The story of this system began in November 2007 when I recieved an email inquiring about buying a complete off-grid solar electric system to power a woodworking shop being built on a former sugar plantation. At the time I was managing a local renewable energy (RE) contracting company, Rainshadow Solar.  When I got the email I frankly did not take it very seriously. I was busy with local installations, running the business and caring for my four year old and I didn’t spend much time on chasing email leads for big projects on far off lands. After a few months of occasional email dialog, however, I began to see that this guy was serious, he had a real need for an off-grid PV system and he had the money to pay for it. Meanwhile, my working relationship at Rainshadow was changing and I had begun the planning and preparations for starting my own company.   

I saw this system on Saint Kitts as a perfect fit for my new business model of selling complete system packages for customers to install themselves with local electricians.  So I put together a six figure quote for a 12kW PV array on a ground mount rack, a fully loaded Outback Power Systems Flexware 1000 inverter/charger power panel and a large sealed Absolyte industrial quality battery bank.   They agreed to the purchase and by July I was recieving wire transfers and drop shipping all the gear to Miami to be loaded onto a boat to the island.  

Kukie the electrician, Philip the project manager and Kate, artist and Philip´s wife

I had occasional email exchanges with the project lead, Philip, but for the most part they needed little advice or instruction beyond the detailed installation manual I wrote and the manuals from the equipment manufacturers.

Power ´Nexus´ on the left, battery on the right, Kukie the electrician working on the AC load panel in the middle

Once they had all the parts together then Philip decided that he´d like me to come down to check their wiring to make sure they put it together correctly.     In my sales contract I had agreed to include on-site support if all travel expenses were covered.   So, in early December I flew down to take a look.     What a place.  It turned out that Philip was more than just the project manager, he is a descendent of the original English planters who established the sugar plantation and the colony of Saint Kitts back in the 18th century.   He and his wife Kate live in some of the original buildings on the hill overlooking the cane fields and the northern coast of the island.   Philip is a versatile and talented guy, having been a boatbuilder and inn keeper (and builder of that Inn, actually)  among his various pursuits.    Kate is a wonderfully talented artist who sells her oil paintings from her home gallery and through her website.

So we went over to take a look at the system, I checked the polarity at the inverter breakers and flipped the switches.   Everything worked just as it should.   I did a bit of simple programming and answered a few questions that Philip and Kukie the electrician had and that was about it for actual solar electric work for my trip.   Not a bad days work, I must say.  

This system really confirmed for me that there is a demand for whole system integrated packages and that the power electronics gear now available makes it easy for local contractors and electricians to do the installations.   Everybody I met down there on the island was intrigued and excited about the potential for solar electricity and battery backup for their frequent and sometimes prolonged power failures.  I hope to send more systems to the Caribbean in the future!

Yeah mon, it works!

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