windpower.jpgAs electricity bills rise, more and more Bermudians are considering installing solar panels or wind turbines to offset their bills and feel more self-sufficient. In the last few years, the technologies have improved, more local retailers are selling and servicing these products, and consumers are increasingly aware that the set-up costs of an alternative energy system will greatly pay off in the long term. However, there remains a great deal of confusion as to which products are not only advisable to use in Bermuda but have the green light from Government and BELCO. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions on the matter of solar and wind generating products.

Do I need planning permission to install solar or wind generators?

For all solar energy collection systems that have solar panels with an area greater than 80 square feet, you need planning permission and a building permit. If your system is smaller, then you do not need planning permission, just the permit. You can install the smaller systems on the ground or on a roof. For rooftop solar applications, no matter their size, no part of the panels or equipment can project more than 10 inches above the roof surface. Wind turbines erected above the roofline require planning permission and a building permit. Wind turbines erected on the ground require only the permit. You cannot install solar panels or wind generators on listed (historic) buildings.

 

Are solar and wind generators duty-free?

Solar panels are classified by Customs as “Photosensitive semiconductor devices, including photovoltaic cells whether or not assembled in modules or made up into panels; light emitting diodes” (tariff code 85.41). The rate of duty for these is 0%.  Wind turbines are classified by Customs as wind-powered electrical generating sets (tariff code 8502.310). The rate of duty for these is 33.5%.

 

How much solar electric power do I need to power my home?

Systems come in all sizes, depending on how many modules you use in your array, and thus can produce as much power as required. Generally, homeowners produce a portion of their home’s required power, leaving room for additional conservation or generation efforts in the future. Of course, each home is different, so the amount of electricity you use is dependent on your lifestyle, your home’s energy efficiency and your appliances. As an example, ten solar panels can power a fridge, water pump, hot water, lights and one available power receptacle in every room in the house (for use of table lamps, television or other plug-in appliance).

 

Does my property have enough wind to power a wind turbine?

Generally, wind turbines require wind speeds of at least 4.5 meters per second (10 miles per hour) to be effective. A recording anemometer can take readings at the “hub height” (the elevation at the top of the wind turbine tower) to determine wind speeds. The power in wind is proportional to its speed cubed. This means that the amount of power you get from your generator goes up exponentially as the wind speed increases.

 

What do I do for electricity on overcast days if I have solar panels, or calm days if I use wind power?

Solar panels will still collect energy even on overcast days, though their output will be significantly reduced. Many solar and wind systems use batteries to store energy for later use, such as on days when you are using a high level of electricity but generating low levels through your alternative energy system.

 

Can I sell my electricity to BELCO?

Net metering (or being “grid-tied”) is the regulatory ability to get credit for electricity you generate with solar energy and send it backwards through your utility metre. BELCO used a solar-panelled house as a testing site for grid-tied power in Bermuda and found that the connection did not jeopardize the safety or reliability of BELCO’s network. However, at this time BELCO is withholding contracts for net metering until the launch of its Small Scale Renewable Energy Program later this year.

 

I can’t afford enough solar panels to generate electricity for my entire house but I want to reduce my electricity bill. What’s a good way to start?

Photovoltaic (PV) solar cells are connected together to form PV modules that may be up to several feet long and a few feet wide. Modules, in turn, can be combined and connected to form PV arrays of different sizes and power output, to meet almost any electric power need. Thus, a consumer can buy a small array of solar equipment, with the aim to add more panels later as they can afford them. The alternative is to target one area of a household’s energy consumption. Presently, 30% of a household’s total energy consumption is used to heat water. The investment in a solar hot-water system is therefore easily offset by the savings in electricity or propane gas over a few years.

 

This article by Laura Semos was submitted to and printed by the Bermuda Sun on August 22, 2008.

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According to The Footprint Network, which measures the ability of the planet to produce resources and absorb waste, our resource use and waste production is 60% more than the earth can produce or absorb annually.

This overshoot is the result of decisions that we each make every day. We seek to generate debate and to influence people to change their behaviour.We strive to be catalysts: Success for us is when we can Change the Mindset so that sustainable use of resources is included in decision-making for individuals, government or businesses. ... read more


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