Incorporated in July 2013 by Barbadian Joanna Edghill and her husband Simon Richards, Megapower is a local company that builds and manages solar carports, as well as a network of electric vehicle charging stations strategically located throughout the island. Megapower is also the first company to import the all Electric Nissan LEAF.
Barbados is dependent on fuel oil and diesel to generate some 96% of our electricity, and 90% of that fuel needs to be imported. Clearly, that is an unsustainable situation that could be improved considerably from several perspectives, most notably cost-savings and environmental preservation. When Simon and I returned to Barbados after living and working in Papua New Guinea, which is abundantly rich in natural resources, it really struck us that here we have our own natural, renewable resource, the sun, that is being underutilized. It was that stark contrast that first prompted us to consider starting a business that focused on the use of solar power on the island. After attending a course on solar PV in the UK, we attended the Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum in 2011, held here in Barbados, where we were inspired by a presentation about the Nissan LEAF all electric car. Recognizing that Barbados, with our relatively short driving distances and abundant sunshine, is an ideal location to operate electric cars, recharged by the sun, we decided to launch Megapower.
We qualified for part funding from the Caribbean Export Development Agency, under the 10th European Development Fund Regional Private Sector Development Programme’s Direct Assistance Grant Scheme, and that helped us to get the business off the ground. This went towards building our proof of concept project, a 14-bay solar car port with charging station. This car port features 102 solar photovoltaic, 265-watt monocrystalline Axitec panels from Germany, which can generate enough power to fully charge seven electric vehicles per day. Our initial business plan revolved around establishing and maintaining a network of charging stations around the island, but when we discovered that no car dealer was bringing in electric cars we chose to also include importation of the vehicles as part of our operation. After conducting a lean start-up, where we gauged demand for electric cars, we applied to the Government for status as importers of new and second-hand electric vehicles. Electric vehicles have a higher purchase price than internal combustion engine equivalents, and at the moment there is no significant incentive in import duty or tax relief for them. Our first challenge was how to get these new, innovative vehicles to market in a competitive manner. The answer was by forming relationships with Nissan UK dealerships who would sell us 5-month old exdemonstrator vehicles with little mileage (2000 miles and under) for a reduced rate.
The Nissan LEAF is the world’s best sold electric car and as the local Nissan dealer was not in a position to distribute the LEAF in Barbados, we decided that was the best car for us to start with.
In just over a year we have sold 50 electric cars, including the highly acclaimed BMWi3, and installed 18 publicly accessible charging stations, located all around the island and offering free power to our customers (See www.Plugshare.com). Using our organic approach we are balancing the car sales with the development of our public charging network with plans to expand into the tourism sector.
We also supply and install charging infrastructure at private homes and office premises, with over 30 units installed to date, several with solar.
In October 2014 Megapower will begin importing the Nissan e-NV200 electric van, which has recently been released across Europe. They have great potential, and we believe they will be exceptionally popular in Barbados. I cannot dismiss the possibility that we might bring in other vehicles in the future – since our company is growing and responding to consumer demand, so if something makes sense we will try it – but the fact is that we only became suppliers by necessity. We really want all the car dealerships in Barbados to bring in more electric cars. Our goal is to establish the infrastructure to own and manage a network of solar-powered electric vehicle charging stations. We want to help clean up Barbados’ roads by promoting the benefits of zero emission driving.
These are very exciting times for us. Interest in electric vehicles is growing exponentially and we expect to have about 100 electric cars in Barbados by 2015. This island is an ideal size for using electric vehicles. They carry enough charge to deal comfortably with average local distances travelled in a typical day. Drivers can also top up during the day if needed. Even with Barbados’ relatively expensive electricity, charging is inexpensive compared to gas or diesel. Each full charge costs approximately BBD$15 for 125 kilometres of driving, which is about 1/3 of the cost of running an internal combustion equivalent over the same distance.
In addition to showcasing the many advantages of electric cars, Barbados is also an ideal proving ground for the rest of the Caribbean and other small island states for improving electricity supply sustainability, efficiency, stability and cost effectiveness through renewable energy sources and intelligent grid technology.
Megapower is leading the way for electric vehicles, and we aim to push ahead even further. We would welcome more Government support, especially in the form of favourable taxation. This is commonplace in Europe, Asia and North America, and even some countries closer to home. Trinidad and Tobago and Cayman Islands are establishing zero duty and zero VAT status for electric vehicles. In order to maximize the many benefits of switching from gasoline and diesel to electric vehicles we want a holistic approach with Government, Private Sector and Civil Society all on board for this great adventure with electric transportation.
Going forward we hope to work on growing electric vehicle and renewable energy policy in Barbados. One example would be a provision for building codes to include mandatory electric carports and reserved car park spaces again commonplace in other parts of the world.
By Easter of 2015 Megapower will commence a pilot rental of electric vehicles, starting at a number of hotels. The growing competitiveness of the tourism sector globally requires fresh ideas to attract and grow tourist numbers and expenditure on tourism products, and we intend to play our part here in Barbados.
I really look forward to the day when tourists arrive in Barbados and right outside the airport doors they discover lines of electric taxis and electric cars for hire. That would make a big positive statement for Barbados.