Richmond Vale Academy is a demonstrated leader in renewable energy generation and use, as well as sustainable living in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In May 2019, Richmond Vale Academy achieved its goal of having 100 per cent of its electricity generated by renewable energy.
The move by Richmond Vale Academy falls under its 10-year programme, “The St. Vincent Climate Compliance (CCCP) 2012 – 2021”. Under the programme, the institution has trained hundreds of students to take action as well as inform thousands of people globally on the effects of global warming and climate change.
Richmond Vale Academy decided to have both an off-grid and an on-grid photovoltaic solar system in order to be self-sufficient at all times and to remain operational in the event of a central system electricity failure due to climate change related or other disasters.
The Academy's off-grid system consists of 120 solar modules, a total of 32kw of PV power. This means that the system can produce 32 kW per hour, if there is maximum sunshine for one hour.
In St. Vincent, on average, the sunshine is at its most intense for 4.5 hours per day. This means that the Academy's off-grid system can produce (32 kW x 4.5 hours ) 144 kWh per day, but the Academy only uses about 60 kWh per day on light, pumping water, refrigerating food, etc. Why this over capacity? It is because 144 kWh is an average. Some days the system produces 200 kWh while on others, it is only 50 kWh. In off-grid installation, one needs this overcapacity to ensure that the battery bank gets more power in than out during a decided period of time -- like a few days or more.
The Academy already has experience with the selection of types of batteries as the first system was set up in 2014 using 120 lead acid batteries, which had a six-year lifespan. Learning from this experience, in 2021, the Academy upgraded its battery bank from lead acid batteries to lithium ion batteries, which have a larger power storage capacity and longer lifespan. The lithium ion batteries can typically last 15 to 20 years and may even last 30 years, depending on how the batteries are charged and discharged.
The Academy's on-grid system consists of 180 solar modules, a total of 63 KWh PV power. The on-grid photovoltaic installation is connected to the national grid, meaning that the energy it generates feeds into the national grid. The system can produce a daily average of 280 kWh or about EC50,000 worth of electricity per year.
The academy also uses five solar water heaters covering all hot water needs for kitchen, laundry and showers. The solar water heater system is passive, meaning no pumping is required as the water circulates in the pipes due to the temperature difference between hotter and colder water.
The solar water heaters were not damaged by the heavy ash fall from the April 2021 eruption of La Soufriere volcano, near the base of which Richmond Vale Academy is located. The water heaters located on a roof collapsed during the eruption.
The academy also had two systems installed using solar power to pump rainwater to the nursery and compost systems. These solar systems use a single solar module and a 12v water pump. They were damaged in the eruption, but funds are being sourced to recover these systems. (More on this later.)
The Richmond Vale Academy is currently executing a home gardening project, in which homeowners in selected areas of the country are being introduced to permaculture -- a way of ecological -- organic -- sustainable farming. Richmond Vale Academy is seeking funding to expand the project to include both a grey water recycling system and solar energy plant at each home.
The aim is that households will produce more of their own food as well as generate a substantial part of their energy through solar systems. The Richmond Vale Academy believes that this will make a significant contribution to both reducing the food import bill, and reducing dependence on fossil fuels, by making these alternatives attractive, while emphasizing the economic benefits to households.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is especially vulnerable to extreme weather events as a result of climate change. These include tropical hurricanes, flash floods, and droughts. As it relates to solar energy generation, tropical cyclones and the challenges of the strong winds and large amounts of rain that accompany them pose special problems for PV systems. Water intrusion can damage or destroy panels. Additionally, panels can be damaged or destroyed if ripped from their installation, or impacted by missiles propelled by a hurricane.
In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, there is the added challenge of a volcanic eruption. And while, based on historic records, these events occur decades apart, when they do, they can have a devastating and costly impact on renewable energy installation, especially because of the corrosive and conductive nature of volcanic ash and its ability to find its way into the smallest of spaces.
The experience of Richmond Vale Academy has proven that PV systems, properly installed, can survive the most extreme of hurricanes and even a volcanic eruption. Richmond Vale Academy, a 30-acre (12-hectare) campus located close to the western base of the volcano, is one of the few built structures closest to the volcano. In April 2021, La Soufriere erupted and in the aftermath, Richmond Vale Academy removed 617,294lbs (280,000kgs) of volcanic ash (or 70kg per square metre) from its roof. Notwithstanding this, 299 of the 300 solar panels installed at Richmond Vale Academy were functional after the eruption.
As with most places around the world, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic. This has resulted in reduced income amidst skyrocketing cost of basic items, such as food and electricity. The experience of the Richmond Vale Academy can be used to demonstrate the benefits of solar energy, in terms of a constant, yet reduced cost of electricity amidst the fluctuations in the prices of other basic commodities.