Energy 4 All 10 years in the business, and still innovating
“Vanuatu has shown huge gains and progresses in the rural off grid sector but has lagged behind the rest or the world in clean, reliable and cost-efficient grid-tie energy solutions,” he says.
What’s grid-tie? That’s when you use alternative energy to provide some or most of your power needs, but stay connected to the power company in order to handle overflow.
The most common scenario is to place an array of solar panels either on the roof or in an open, unshaded space, and to use these to handle most or all of your business power consumption during the—which is when you need it most.
In some areas in Australia and New Zealand, people can sell their excess energy back to the power company. That’s not possible here. UNELCO has explained that the structure of their grid would make load-balancing and on-demand generation very difficult, if not unworkable,
if they were required to account for tiny in-flows from dozens or hundreds of sources every time the sun is shining, and then to counter the dips when a cloud passes overhead.
The company opposed grid-tied solutions as well in the early days, but after a Supreme Court decision, they have taken positive steps to make the process of integrating on-site power rigs with their infrastructure. The process requires cooperation and sign-off from the power company, but it’s been done enough now that the process is well-understood.
Off-grid solutions for more remote residences is a proven market, says Ritsinias, with obvious benefits and a clear business case.
Grid-tied solutions differ in two important ways.
First, no battery banks are needed. This drops capital costs substantially, and removes one of the largest periodic reinvestment requirements.
Second, you need a system that can manage the balance between the two power sources, optimising your savings.
Energy 4 All has this. A European company named Fronius offers a remarkably easy and intuitive interface to its systems, which tell you not only how much power you’re generating, but how much you need in supplemental power. And just to make things real, it will also tell you how much money you’ve saved, by day, month or over the entire history of your setup.
Better still, it also puts carbon savings in perspective, showing you how many trees you’ve saved, for example, or how many kilometres of driving.
The service is aimed mostly at businesses with large rooftops or open areas. It is being offered in Port Vila and Luganville.
Over the last 10 years, the cost of solar panels has come down from around US $10 to around $1 a watt, says Ritsinias.
Space requirements have dropped drastically too. An panel that would have generated 180 watts in the past can now generate up to 380.
With an appropriately sized panel array, businesses can save up to 80% of their daily power costs, he says. The investment can be amortised in as short a period as two or three years. Generation grids have a lifetime close to 15 years now, Ritsinias argues, so the savings over the lifetime of the system are massive.
And organisations with business-critical equipment can be configured so that the Fronius inverter can compensate for power cuts too, in some situations.
The savings could become earnings too, in time. Ritsinias claims that “it is only a matter of time before the Vanuatu Government will have to follow the global trend in allowing consumers with private solar systems to sell excess power back to the power companies grids which will make a solar grid tie even more attractive and economically viable.”
Energy 4 All has been operating in Vanuatu for a decade already. From its humble start with a single technician, it’s grown into a much larger operation. It’s now one of two companies owned by Impi Ltd. Its sibling company, Vila Marine, is one of the country’s best-known boat makers.
That company has benefited from the relationship too. Ritsinias is trialing new solar arrays on his small fibreglass craft that will allow power running lights, communications and navigation systems, and even charge a phone or a laptop if need be.
Energy4All is a major supplier of DC freezers as well, with more than 1000 units sold. Many of them still working after a decade in service
Terms may be available for larger companies seeking to reduce their operating costs through a grid-tie scenario.
The company is co-located with Vila Marine on the road to Prima in Port Vila.