An Early Adopter Has No Regrets

Interest in alternative energy supply is not a new fad, it has been growing for years. Even Socrates, the Greek philosopher, was on to it: “In houses that look toward the south, the sun penetrates the portico in winter,” he wrote.

Albert Einstein's 1921 Nobel Prize in physics related to solar generation of electricity. President Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the US White House in the 1970s, only to have his successor, Ronald Reagan, tear them down as a symbol of America's official disdain for green solutions to the energy crisis. Reality, however, has a way of disrupting conservatives’ fantasies, and now interest in new ways of producing energy is on a decided upswing as the world belatedly tries to deal with the aftermath of years of denial and neglect on the environmental front.


One early adopter of solar and wind power in the BVI, Mike Royle, an owner of Blue Water Divers at Nanny Cay, installed photovoltaic panels in mid-2004. Prompted by his wife, Cheryl, Royle had AES devise a system suitable for his home which overlooks Nanny Cay. A 16-panel array produces up to 11 kilowatts of power in optimum conditions, he says. With a large battery bank, two inverters and a wind generator, the system provides much of the Royles’ electricity needs.

“When there's 24 to 26 volts in the batteries, they kick in and provide the power,” Royle told me recently. “When the batteries drop below 24 volts, they are charged up by the mains electricity.”  Describing the impact the system has had, Royle said “When we installed it, my electricity bill was about $370 a month and my brother's was around $125 to $150.” Royle’s bill then decreased to $150 per month after he installed the solar system. His brother, who has not installed solar panels, has seen his electricity bill double since that time. “So we would be paying about $600 a month now.”

On an initial outlay of approximately $35,000, the Royles are saving close to $400 each month compared to what they would be paying if they'd not done anything. “It's definitely been worthwhile,” Michael Royle told me. “If I had that money in the bank would I have been earning $400 a month return? I doubt it. I certainly don't begrudge doing it.”

The only downside Royle sees is that “it's a major expense upfront. By the time you've paid it back, the batteries will need to be replaced. But then again, to get a generator to power your house is going to cost you at least $10,000. And all that's going to do is cost you money for fuel and maintenance. I've never, touch wood, had the power go out to where we've been in darkness. It's always come back on before my batteries have gone down. Now, if a hurricane comes, we'd have to have a generator to come on every now and again.”

Not all systems are configured as the Royles’ system is, and some households have greater demands than theirs—the Royles have no air conditioning, for instance. But overall, similar economies can be gained by appropriate sizing of the system and by conservation measures to reduce demand for electricity. As the price of fossil fuels inexorably soars, sunlight will still be free.