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BERMUDA REGISTERED CHARITY No. 704

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How to Switch to Solar Panels

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solar_panel_bermudaThe basic questions answered > When, Why and How Much !?

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There are now about 20 customers reducing their monthly electricity bill and helping reduce their carbon footprint by selling power back to BELCO. Here are the answers to the top questions we at Greenrock are asked.

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1. How does it work in Bermuda?

Solar Panels - or Solar Photovoltaic Panels to give them their full name - make electricity during the hours of daylight. That electricity then goes back into the grid, or is used by you at home for your daytime loads like air conditioning and cooking. Any power you send back to BELCO, you receive a credit for, and that amount is subtracted from your bill. There is no need for your system to have batteries, just solar panels, an inverter which turns the electricity generated into a grid compatible voltage, and appropriate disconnect switches. If you create more power than you use you will receive a Cheque from BELCO ! The amount you receive for each kilowatt you generate is the same price as you buy it from BELCO, and is adjusted monthly according to fuel prices.

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2. How much do Solar Panels cost?

It all depends on how much you want reduce your bill by, and how many solar panels you buy. If you import a solar panel system from the USA you would need about $25,000 to get a 5kw complete system that will reduce your bills by $250-300/month. (A 5kw system generates around 6000-7000 kwh annually.) The price of an installer is not included in this amount. Then you will have to ship the system to Bermuda and install it. There is no duty on solar panels or related equipment, and Government's Solar Photovoltaic Rebate Initiative (SPRI) very kindly gives you one dollar back for every watt you install, in this case, a rebate of $5000 dollars, if you use a recognized installer. For more on Government's renewable energy Initiatives, visit the Department of Energy's official website (www.energy.gov.bm).

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Before you install solar panels, consider taking simple steps to reduce your electricity consumption. For example, install energy efficient appliances and lightbulbs throughout your house. If you think that one kilowatt of solar panels costs $5,000, you can see why finding ways to save a few watts in the home before you start buying solar panels is worthwhile. Reducing consumption really helps save on the number of solar panels you need to buy.

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You don't have to switch to solar panels in one fell swoop - you can start small and then add more panels later, and if you don't have the money or space to reduce your bill to nothing, you will still be making money after you payback the initial cost.

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3. What companies sell and install Solar Panels?

There are a number of installers on the island who can give you quotes and estimates that include all the labour costs for a safe install. You can install solar panels yourself if you have the appropriate skills: Many online kits come with schematics and certified installers you can cal to ask questions to. At the moment, only Certified Photovoltaic System Installers can get the rebate. It maybe helpful to think of the rebate as helping to offset the cost of hiring an installer.

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4. Which should I choose, Solar Thermal or Solar Panels?

Whilst both Solar Thermal and Solar Panels harness the sun's energy, they function differently.

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Solar thermal system for water heatingSolar Thermal, or solar hot water, uses flat collector plates to harness the sun’s energy to heat water for use in businesses, homes, and pools. A solar thermal system is much cheaper than solar panels to install and much more efficient at heating hot water than electricity - regardless of whether that electricity is generated by solar panels or BELCO. The limitation of a solar thermal system is that it can ONLY heat water and will never power other electrical devices. We'll be adding a 'how to' article on switching to solar thermal for hot water in the near future. In the meantime, check out the informative Solar Water Heating Fact Sheet produced by the Department of Energy.

Solar Panels, or solar photovoltaic panels, convert sunlight to electricity that can be used to supplement or replace the electricity supplied by the utility grid. Whilst typically more expensive than a solar thermal system to install, panels are most versatile in that they produce electricity rather than just heating water.

5. How long does it take to pay back?

Given that Bermuda's electricity costs are significantly higher than most, the time taken to recoup your set-up costs is far shorter than other countries. You will be looking at getting your money back in a 7-10 year timeframe at today's prices, with your panels having a 25 year warranty, so you might expect 15 years of free power after payback. It is helpful for some people to think of solar panels as an investment, and figures quoted are often in the region of an annual ROI of 7-10% or a 25 year return of 400-500%. Going solar may cost as much as a car, but it will still be making you money, rather then costing you money 25 years later ! Also, this investment is working for you as long as the sun continues to shine, recession or no recession. The value of the power you make will always be the same as the value of the power you buy, meaning inflation is not a concern.

6. How much space do I need and where should they go?

The more sun you can give your panels, the more money they will make for you. You want an unshaded south facing location with your array tipped at 32 degrees for maximum return. It is possible to install them on a roof, or on the ground. Some people in Bermuda have made nice sun porches composed of solar panels. An installer can help with suggestions, and the aesthetics are also important. You need to be thinking of about 400 sq ft for a 5kw system depending on the brand of panels you choose. The area should be unshaded during the crucial daylight hours of 9-5 when the sun is strongest. Your panels will still make lots of power if your roof does not face south, but for every few degrees, you lose a few watts of power that is possible from your panels.

7. Do I need planning?

Small setups require only a Permitted Works application, but bigger systems require a full DAP-1 planning application which takes 5-8 months to complete. You also need building permits, and Licenses from the Ministry of the Environment. The planning dept has "A Guide to Renewable Energy" that explains it all. Application forms and other helpful publications can be found on the Department of Planning's official website (www.planning.gov.bm).Belco install a net-meter after inspecting your system

When you have finished and all inspections are completed, you get a 'Certificate of Use' from planning. Then you are ready to fill in the BELCO has Residential Interconnection Agreement , with details of your system and permits , and finally BELCO install a new net-meter for you (at their expense) and inspect your system. You are then good to go !

8. How good is it for the Planet?

Every year, a 5 kw system will save about 7-10 Tons of C02 from being emitted into the atmosphere. This helps prevent Global Warming, and saves fossil fuels. Going Solar can be considered an ethical investment. Good for your pocket and the planet !

Last Updated on Friday, 21 Sep 2012
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