Phase 2 Saba solar park project well on its way to completion

Construction of phase 2 of Saba Electric Company (SEC) solar park projects next to the Juancho Yrausquin Airport is progressing as planned. The frames with the 2,960 solar panels should be in place in the third week of December. Once the second solar park is operational in the first quarter of 2019, the two solar parks combined will generate up to 40 per cent of Saba’s electricity needs, depending weather conditions.

Sub-contractor Enersado, an expert in solar panel installations from Portugal, aided by Saba company Hescon which delivers the concrete, under the guidance of European main contractor Ecorus, are working six days a week to get the second phase of the solar park ready between December 17 and 21. Saba Roads took care of the fencing of the 16,000m2 purchased property.

Ongoing construction at the solar park of the Saba Electric Company (SEC) located next to the Juancho Yrausquin Airport. (Photo by Lincoln Charles/Saba Government Information Service)

The drilling of the 2.5 meter holes and the placing of the metal pilings started several weeks ago. The pilings are cemented in the ground. After that, the framework is attached and the solar panels are then installed on this structure. The entire structure itself is guaranteed category 4 hurricane proof. The panels, which are made in China, are the strongest ones that are available, explained SEC Managing Director Dexter Johnson.

Together with the more than 3,200 panels of the first phase and the close to 3,000 panels of the second phase, the solar parks, once both operational, will generate in total more than 2.100 megawatt power (MWp) on sunny days. The first phase currently produces almost 20 per cent of Saba’s electricity demand, depending on how the weather fluctuates. With the second phase, this percentage will increase to 35 to 40 per cent.

The battery component of the park where the surplus of power generated by the solar panels is stored should be ready mid-February next year, with the possibility of an earlier commissioning. Just as is the case with the extra power generated by the first phase, the surplus power of the second phase will be stored in Samsung lithium ion batteries with a capacity of 2,000KHw that will be housed in a special 40ft. container with a 2,000 KHw battery storage located at the Elmer Linzey Power Plant at Fort Bay.

The electricity generated by the solar park arrives at the power plant via underground feeder cables. But first, it enters a small concrete building next to the solar park which houses the inverters, the so-called fuel save controller and the transformer that transforms the current from the solar panels to 12,000 volts.

The fuel save controller of the German company SMA Sunbelt Energy, provides a seamless switch between the solar park, the storage batteries and the diesel generators at the power plant. Communication between all three locations is made possible by a fibre optic cable running from the solar park to the power plant.

The fuel save controller has several benefits: it is cost saving, mitigates risks and is able to operate under harsh conditions. In the second phase of the solar park project, a grid-forming inverter will be installed, a new feature that further ensures stability of the power grid.

Saba has a very stable power supply network with barely any outages. It has a relatively new power plant which was commissioned in 2016. The Elmer Linzey Power Plant is fully automated, clean, insulated and built with the highest safety features. The power plant is also category 4 hurricane proof.

With both parks in operation, consumers will see a small reduction in the variable fee (the consumption-based fee) of their electricity bills. The two parks allow for SEC to reduce its dependency on fuel for its operations. Even though SEC will be purchasing less fuel, this smaller quantity of fuel is costlier, as the price of fuel has steadily increased over the last year, which is why consumers will only see a small reduction in their bills.

With the second phase solar park and good weather, the generators at the power plant can shut off during the day. This not only saves fuel, but it is good for the environment without the emission of any CO2. In the night, the generators have to run to provide electricity. A 65KW solar installation has already been installed on the roof of the power plant.

The Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate (EZK) subsidized the first phase of the solar park. The 11th European Development Fund (EDF 11th) of the European Union finances the seance phase with 3.3 million euros of budget support, while the EZK Ministry provides partial financing.

Commissioner of Energy Affairs Rolando Wilson of the Public Entity Saba said the solar park project was very important for Saba’s sustainability and for the island in general. He said that investing in solar energy fitted in Saba’s profile of being an eco-friendly island that takes sustainability serious. The Commissioner thanked the European Union and the EZK Ministry for their financial support.

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