As many of us try to reduce our carbon footprint, as well as our BELCO bills, the outlook for solar energy systems seems bright, but where do you start? How reliable is solar technology and do the potential savings outweigh the up-front costs?

With rising energy costs and increasing concerns about climate change, solar energy is the present and the future.

Renewable energy expert Stratton Hatfield, who is director of business development at BE Solar, advises that before investing in solar panels, you need to first understand your home’s energy output and then make it as efficient as possible. To achieve better energy efficiency, “low-hanging fruit” includes timers on water or closet heaters, LED light bulbs, maintaining air-conditioning units regularly, replacing appliances over fifteen years old and upgrading the swimming pool pump to a variable speed pump. By doing this, you reduce your kilowatt hour (kWh) consumption. This is the measure of how much energy your home uses and determines the optimum number of solar panels needed. “It’s not about square footage, it’s about how much energy a property consumes,” he explains. “You could have a 1,000-square-foot house, but with ten closet heaters on. In that case, you will need more solar panels than a larger, but more energy-efficient house.”

In addition to your energy consumption, a solar system design also needs to consider the direction in which the panels will face, the angle they will be fixed at, and the shade. “All of those things determine how much energy a solar panel will produce,” he says.

Once you know the optimum number of solar panels for your home, what are the costs of having them installed and what will your monthly financial savings be? As an example, with BE Solar, if you install ten solar panels, the base cost would be $21,000, the annual saving on your BELCO bill would be around $2,651, and they could pay for themselves in under eight years. For sixteen panels, the base cost would be $29,165, the annual saving around $6,150, and they could pay for themselves in seven years.1

If these costs are out of reach, however, Hatfield points out that “all three of the main lending institutions here offer low-interest green loans,” and “even paying interest on a solar project, you’re still going to be getting a good rate of return on your money.” The panels come with a 30-year warranty, and you can monitor output through the Enphase Enlighten app. “The beauty with solar systems,” he adds, “is that there are no moving parts so there’s minimal maintenance.” They are also designed to withstand 150 mile per hour winds.

But what happens when the sun goes down? “You don’t get any benefit, unfortunately,” says Hatfield. Nor do they work when BELCO power is down. Unless, however, you have also invested in battery storage. BE Solar installs the Enphase IQ battery system which, explains Hatfield, is the “safest and most reliable battery system available in Bermuda. Having a battery system not only provides you with silent back-up power in an outage to run primary energy loads, it also gives you the option to keep the solar energy on your property to use when the sun goes down.” This system ranges in size from 6.6kWh up to 40kWh at a cost of $25,100 up to $84,511, respectively, and can be installed either inside or outdoors. These costs only cover the battery system, not the solar panels. If you can’t afford both at the same time, batteries can be installed at a later date.

“The cost of the system depends on what the battery system has been sized for,” explains Hatfield. “If you want a system that provides you with back-up for your water system, fridge or LED lights, that’s a much smaller battery system, whereas if you wanted to run the air-conditioning or water heaters, you would require a much larger battery.”

“Think of it as a quieter, more reliable generator system that doesn’t burn fossil fuel, that you use every day,” he says.

With rising energy costs and increasing concerns about climate change, solar energy is the present and the future. Even more so as people turn to electric vehicles and want to become more environmentally friendly. Because of this, Hatfield is confident that solar and battery costs will come down over the next few years, while the quality of the technology will only improve.

1 These figures are based on BELCO prices at the time of writing. Base prices include Department of Planning, BELCO administration, installation and interconnection, including all masonry and electrical work.