The use of solar energy has been traced back as early as the 7th century BC, when magnifying glasses were used to make fire.
Clearly, we have come a long way since then and added several more alternative energy sources to the mix.
And as far as embracing green technologies in construction for both commercial and residential use, several projects and a few individual homes in Cayman are leading the charge locally.
NCB Group broke ground August 2013 on Cypress Pointe North, their latest residential initiative and a true eco-community; the first phase is slated to be completed in November this year.
Managing Director Matthew Wight, a strong proponent of utilizing alternative energy technologies in the company’s building projects, explains the importance of sustainability.
“I’m looking at our future, our kids’ future,” he says.
“How do we build products that are more sustainable? I don’t get excited about building conventionally. From our standpoint, any new project will incorporate as much green technology as possible.”
The development, which is located in Crystal Harbour, exemplifies this philosophy. All of the residences will generate electricity through solar power and be cooled through geothermal energy, explains Tania Knapik, sales and marketing coordinator for NCB Group.
“This will be one of the most energy-efficient communities in the Caribbean,” she says, pointing out some of the technologies that will accomplish this green result.
The buildings will be constructed with insulated concrete forms (ICF) making them stronger and more energy-efficient than by using traditional concrete blocks. All of the windows will be double-glazed and the appliances rated for energy efficiency. Every residence will use solar power to generate electricity. Each villa will collect rainwater for landscaping and taps outside the house.
Incorporating geothermal cooling seems to generate the most excitement, as it were, for the developers. John Van Ryswyk, of NCB division GeoCayman, is overseeing the implementation of the system. “Because the island is basically a porous sponge made of limestone and saturated with water, it is perfect for geothermal cooling,” he explains.
In simplest terms, John says, a conventional air conditioner moves heat from inside the home to hot air outside. A geothermal system takes the heat and moves it through water, which is a much more efficient method of cooling, saving up to 50 percent of the cost of air conditioning.
The water is moved through a closed loop (made of specialized plastic piping) through a series of bore holes (a typical home requires four to six bores) drilled 150 feet into the earth outside the house, where the heat is conducted into the cool, saturated ground.
Then the cooled water travels through the closed loop back into the house to the compressor, which is protected from the outside elements. From that point, the system looks and works like standard air conditioning, blowing cold air through vents in the ceiling. John points to two other benefits: the equipment lasts two to four times longer than conventional air conditioner units, and produces potable hot water for the home, as a by-product, at no extra cost.
The savings continue with the solar component. Jim Knapp of Endless Energy (Cayman) Ltd, is installing the solar energy systems for the development. “We worked with NCB during preconstruction to make it the most energy-efficient it could be,” he explains. “We advised them to make the roofs flat to maximize exposure to the sun; as long as the sun is up, you have exposure.”
Pitched roofs only allow for half as many solar panels.
In addition, he advised NCB to use only LED light bulbs, which Knapp says provides an 80 percent reduction in electricity costs compared to incandescent bulbs.
Knapp also recommended where to install the conduit that runs to the roof that will connect to the meter bases.
“Everyone should build their house solar-ready,” he says, adding that, for most houses, it would cost less than $200 in conduit to do so.
“In the future, everyone will have to use alternative energy sources because no one will be able to afford fossil-fuel electricity, now set by CUC at 36 cents per kWh. As the cost of fossil fuels increase, the cost of solar will not. It will continue to cost 10 cents per kWh for the next 25 years (the length of the system’s warranty).”
All together, Endless Energy will complete 39 solar installations at Cypress Pointe North.
Knapp is excited about the project and what it represents.
“This is the first energy-efficient community built that way from the ground up. We think 2014 is going to be our year for solar.”
Two individual homes in Cayman are also noteworthy for the emphasis on green technology. Dart Realty, partnering with GreenTech Group, is building Bella Verde, a luxury eco-residence in Salt Creek.
Designed as one of the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold-certified home in the Caribbean, the house incorporates water and energy efficiency, including a geothermal cooling system, solar power, use of sustainable materials, a focus on the highest possible indoor air quality, and durability.
The 4,500 square-foot home will feature five bedrooms including two master suites, 4.5 bathrooms, a flexible two–level floor plan and an attached two-car garage.
According to Dart Realty, the highly insulated home, which will also use LED lighting, is expected to generate energy savings of about 70 percent compared to similar luxury residences not incorporating green technology.
James Whittaker, the founder and CEO of GreenTech, says,
“The house’s unique design proves that homeowners do not have to compromise on quality or aesthetics to achieve a highly energy-efficient and sustainable ‘green’ home.
“GreenTech has been at the forefront of the green building movement in the Cayman Islands and has seen a strong desire by homeowners to create highly energy-efficient homes that are not only good for the environment but also for the occupants’ health.
“We expect the strong upward demand for these types of homes to continue as consumers become more educated on the environment, and the cost of electricity to operate homes and buildings continues to spiral.”
Husband and wife, Philip Nadeau and Jayne Brett, moved into their “green” home the end of last year; In March, they were anticipating LEED gold certification which would make their home the second LEED-certified residence outside of the US (the first is in Cayman as well).
Philip, who is head of interior design at DDL Studio Ltd, explains that LEED certification provides third-party assurance that the home complies with rigorous technical requirements for energy and water efficiency, indoor air quality, non-toxic materials and environmental performance. He points out having LEED certification adds value to a home.
Among the green features of this three-bedroom house in South Sound are low-e hurricane-rated windows, a high-efficiency air conditioning system, ICF construction, expanding foam insulation in the attic, very-low-flow plumbing fixtures, dual-flush toilets and propane-powered appliances.
The home is also outfitted with 25 solar panels providing 6kw of energy so that electricity costs are expected to be net-zero.
“It is not just about energy efficiency,” says Philip. “It is also about people and keeping them healthy and happy now and for generations to come.”