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Solar energy powers Jamaica’s poultry industry

Dossier

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A pioneering grid-tied, solar-powered system has reduced Jamaican broiler farmers’ energy costs by 40%. The sustainable solution is welcome at a time of rising energy costs and high temperatures in Jamaica.

More than 90% of Jamaica’s power is generated from imported fossil fuels, making electricity prices vulnerable to rising global oil prices and foreign currency fluctuations. In 2010, against the backdrop of escalating production costs, Jamaica Broilers Group (JBG) embarked on research and development to build an energy system for its contract farmers, which was economically and environmentally sustainable.

Celebrating its 60th year in business in 2018, JBG is the largest agribusiness company in the Caribbean, producing hatching eggs, baby chicks and feed for its contract farmers, as well as supplying independent farmers with chicks, feed and agricultural equipment. Under the contract farming system, JBG’s farmers also receive technical support, including daily visits from technical representatives, veterinarians, and maintenance and engineering personnel. In addition, regular structured training programmes and workshops, such as updates on husbandry techniques and equipment development, are provided to contract farmers and their employees.

Why solar?

From May to October, Jamaica experiences 8-9 hours of sunshine per day, with average temperatures of 32oC. This does not bode well for rearing poultry, and keeping facilities cool accounts for up to 40% of JBG’s contract farmers’ operational costs. Most JBG farmers are encouraged to use tunnel ventilated housing; however, these fully enclosed, environmentally-controlled facilities also require a lot of power to run. In order to mitigate the increased electricity costs for farmers, JBG used to pay an additional ‘summer energy’ subsidy. However, the escalating cost of production, as a result of high energy usage, incentivised JBG to explore alternative energy management solutions for its farmers.

“After much research, JBG’s Best Dressed Chicken (BDC) processing plant selected solar power. By late 2011, BDC had designed a grid-tied solar system to run one house with a minimum of 16,000 ft2 roof space,” says BDC general manager Pamela Russell. The solar system was then installed and tested on a pilot farm, with positive results. The company met with farmers to outline the benefits of the solar-powered system and the BDC Solar Power Project was officially launched in 2012, with an initial investment of US$10 million (~€8.8 million) from the Development Bank of Jamaica. JBG reviewed and shortlisted three local solar suppliers to provide and install the full solar system, as well as carry out regular maintenance. The company also helped farmers to access individual loans from approved financial institutions to enable them to purchase the solar systems.

As the initiative rolled out, other banks and financial institutions came on board, and JBG convinced them to use the solar panels and inverters rather than farmers’ land as collateral. After negotiations with Jamaica Public Service Company Limited (JPS), the sole electricity distributor in the country, farmers were registered with the country’s first ever net billing system. The solar systems generate power continuously, even during the 2-week period when houses are not being used – after birds have grown to maturity and are sold back to JBG and before the next flock of chicks arrive. The excess power produced during this time is sold back to the grid, and this becomes credit against farmers’ next electricity bill.

Kay-D’s Farm – energy savings drive expansion

Kadeon Davis, managing director of Kay-D’s Farm, is a third-generation poultry farmer in Saint Catherine, Jamaica. Her grandfather began operations in 1969 with 3,000 chicks. Having joined the family business in 2007, Kadeon works alongside her father, Donald Davis, and together they have expanded the farm’s capacity to 125,000 birds per 6-week growth period. Kadeon also leads on the farm’s modernisation efforts, which started with converting their two traditional broiler houses to tunnel ventilated housing.

Today, the farm has grown to five houses, but with these additions, Kadeon saw an increase in her electricity costs. In 2017, as a first step to reducing energy costs, Kadeon installed LED bulbs in the houses. Satisfied with these results, she then engaged JBG’s shortlisted solar companies to assess her farm’s needs. After selecting her chosen solar supplier, and liaising with the JPS Energy Solutions Division, a 37 kWh semi-autonomous, grid-tied solar system was installed. Commissioned in October 2018, the system comprises 183 solar panels linked to the main electrical grid. Initially, securing funding for the system was challenging but, with support from JBG, her loan was approved. “The cost of energy is high in Jamaica, and it is my single largest operational cost, especially as the tunnel houses use power driven ventilation technology. I have already seen favourable results over the past couple months, having received a 50% reduction in my electricity invoice and a €450 credit,” Kadeon explains.

Environmental, national and farm impacts

“The programme’s impact has been felt mainly through the reduction of power use in the houses, and the subsequent reduction in farmers’ electricity bills,” Russell outlines. JBG has also been able to phase out its ‘summer’ subsidy, stabilise power costs, and leverage its pricing policy to pass on these savings to consumers and offer more cost-effective products. Farmers like Kadeon Davis are also diverting freed-up funds to expand into new ventures.

By late 2012, 95% of JBG’s contract farmers had installed at least one grid-tied solar system. Since then, most farmers have progressively equipped the rest of their houses with solar panels, and new farmers have come on board. “As a leading agricultural producer, we operate in ways that value the environment, and we are pleased to see how this project has changed the solar energy landscape of Jamaica, making it a more acceptable energy source,” says Russell. As a result of JBG’s solar initiative, carbon dioxide production in Jamaica has reduced by an estimated 3,900 t per year.