Solar photovoltaic systems convert sunlight directly into electricity, which can be used within your home or business or fed back into the electrical grid. This guide contains important information that may be useful if you are considering buying a solar photovoltaic system
What is a solar photovoltaic system?
A photovoltaic system consists of one or more solar photovoltaic panels, a mounting frame, some wiring and an inverter. The photovoltaic panels contain a special material that converts sunlight directly into electricity. The inverter conditions this electricity to ensure it is compatible with appliances in your home and can be safely fed into the electricity grid.
Does energy efficiency matter?
Absolutely. If you use less electricity, you will need less electricity to be generated by your solar photovoltaic system. This means you will need fewer solar panels, which will occupy less space and cost less. Replacing inefficient appliances with efficient ones is nearly always more cost-effective than using solar photovoltaic technology. Spending a few thousand dollars on highly efficient appliances could reduce your energy consumption enough to save tens of thousands of dollars you would otherwise need to spend on solar panels. It is particularly important to use energy efficient air conditioning, space heating, ventilation, water heating, lighting and refrigeration systems. Find out about energy efficient appliances and different ways of conserving energy
How long will a system last?
Most good-quality solar photovoltaic panels will last over 25 years and have frequently been known to last up to 40 years. Inverters must typically be replaced every five to ten years and this should be accounted for when assessing the cost of a system.
I am a landlord. Why should I get a solar hot water system for a property I rent out?
Investing in a solar photovoltaic system can provide a regular monthly return for decades. Why not fit a system to a property you own and develop a new lease that includes payments from your tenants to cover the value of electricity you are producing on their behalf? A solar photovoltaic system may also make your property more attractive to potential tenants who would rather use ‘clean’ energy.
What size of system will I need?
Photovoltaic systems are usually sized electrically in terms of ‘kilowatts’ of installed capacity. A two or three person home in Bermuda typically requires between three and five kilowatts of installed capacity to meet its annual electrical energy requirements, though this will vary depending how much electricity you use. The actual physical size of the system will depend on both the installed capacity and the module efficiency; the table below shows the typical area required for common system efficiencies and sizes:
Typical module efficiency
Area required for three kilowatt system
Area required for five kilowatt system
170 sq ft
290 sq ft
210 sq ft
350 sq ft
Where should the panels be located?
For maximum energy yield, panels should be located in an un-shaded location which faces south at an angle close to 32 degrees from horizontal. You are encouraged to maintain the design and look of your property when considering where and how to install any panels. A certified solar installer should be able to advise how best to integrate a system into the space available on your property.
Will the department of planning give permission for the installation of solar panels?
The Bermuda Plan 2008 Planning Statement encourages the development of renewable energy sources and permits their installation in any zone at the discretion of the Development Applications Board, or through a Permitted Development Permit where applicable. To date, the majority of applications for solar hot water systems have been approved by the Department of Planning.
Most residential solar systems only require a Permitted Development Permit, which can usually be obtained within a few weeks. The Department of Planning’s Guide for renewable energy  provides all the relevant information you’ll need to apply for the approval of any system.
Delays may be experienced if the application is incomplete or does not include all the relevant information required. For more information contact the Department of Planning directly at (441) 297-7756.
Will solar panels affect the ability of my roof to catch water?
Solar photovoltaic panels should be installed carefully to avoid channeling water away from gutters. Although solar photovoltaic panels are generally constructed from benign materials such as aluminium and glass, you should discuss any concerns about the impact of a solar photovoltaic system on your drinking water quality with a certified solar installer. If you need to paint your roof once the solar panels have been installed, it should be possible to reach under the mounting frame of many smaller systems with a specially adapted roller. Alternatively, it may be possible to remove panels to gain access, though this may increase the cost of painting your roof. Experience in Bermuda to date has shown the roof surface under solar panels typically remains in good condition as it is protected from weathering due to rain and damaging solar radiation.
Costs of a solar PV system
How much does a solar PV system cost?
A system is estimated to cost around $4,000-$6,000 per kilowatt of installed capacity, so expect to pay between $12,000-$18,000 for a three kilowatt system. It is sensible to obtain several quotations from different installers to get a competitive price.
How long will it take for the system to pay for itself?
The length of time it will take for a solar photovoltaic system to pay for itself depends on the initial cost of the system and the cost of electricity over the lifetime of the system. Expect a reasonably priced system to pay for itself in around 10-15 years, though this may increase as the price of fossil fuels decreases. Your installer should be able to assist you with estimating how long it will take for your system to pay for itself.
What is the government doing to reduce the cost of solar systems?
There is no import duty on complete solar photovoltaic systems and many spare parts. Certain local banks have agreed to add the cost of installing a solar photovoltaic array to existing mortgages, while others will be providing loans specifically for this technology, so you may be able to swap your existing electric bills for loan repayments on a solar photovoltaic system. Once the loan has been repaid, you get free energy.
How much will I be paid for any surplus electricity I produce?
BELCO currently offers a ‘net metering’ rate for any electricity fed into the electrical grid from small scale renewable energy systems. A net metering rate means the rate paid to you for any energy you feed into the electric grid will be exactly the same rate you pay for energy you buy from BELCO, including the fuel adjustment surcharge. If you pay $0.34 per kilowatt hour you consume, you will be paid $0.34 per kWh you feed back.
How long will this rate be offered?
The ‘net-metering’ rate is subject to change in the future, but any changes must be approved by the Energy Commission/Regulatory Authority, and the government is committed to ensuring a fair rate is paid to those producing electricity from renewable energy resources.
I can’t afford a solar PV system, what else can I do?
There is no need to have a system that provides exactly the same amount of electricity as you consume, so if cost is an issue, why not consider a smaller system that just reduces your bill instead of eliminating it? If you really can’t afford solar photovoltaic technology, think about replacing your major appliances with the most efficient models available.
Solar photovoltaic system installation information
Can I install my own system?
Although solar photovoltaic systems are relatively simple and can be installed with some basic knowledge and training, it is very important they are properly designed and installed if they are to perform in a safe and efficient manner. Due to the cost of the system and the potential safety hazards of improperly installed systems, the Department of Energy recommends you use a certified installer who has the necessary knowledge and experience to ensure your system is properly designed and installed. A certified installer should also be able to ensure your system meets BELCO’s qualifying criteria so you can interconnect with their electrical grid.
How do I know if a system is good quality?
Solar photovoltaic panels should be UL 1703 listed and inverters should comply with IEEE 1547 and UL 1741 so make sure you ask your installer for equipment that meets these standards. These standards are also listed in BELCO’s qualifying criteria and must be adhered to if you wish to interconnect with their electrical grid. Installers should also hold an appropriate certification, which demonstrates they have the knowledge to properly design and install photovoltaic systems.
Should I look for a warranty on a system?
Manufacturers of solar photovoltaic panels typically provide a power output warranty of at least 25 years, split into two parts: panels are usually warranted to produce no less than 90% of their rated power for the first 10 years of operation and no less than 80% for a further 15 years of operation. The manufacturer should also provide a 5 year warranty on materials and workmanship of their solar panels. Installation warranties vary from company to company, so make sure you ask around and choose carefully.
Will solar panels survive a hurricane?
Much like a roof, the survivability of a solar photovoltaic system depends on how well it has been designed, built and also upon the particular conditions experienced during a hurricane. If your system is properly designed and installed on a strong roof using high-quality products it should withstand hurricane force winds. It is best to discuss any concerns directly with your solar installer, though you may also wish to consider insuring your system. Remember that damage could occur from flying debris such as loose tree branches, so if a hurricane is approaching, make sure you trim any trees and secure any loose objects near the solar array
Do I need batteries to store the electricity produced by a solar photovoltaic system?
Battery systems increase the cost of a solar photovoltaic system substantially and if you are connected to the electrical grid, there is probably no need to have any. By entering into an interconnection agreement with BELCO, they will act as your back-up by providing electricity when you need it and accepting excess electricity generated by your system back into the grid, for which you will be credited.
Can solar panels provide electricity when there is an electricity outage?
Most grid-connected systems automatically disconnect from the electric grid if there is an outage to prevent electricity flowing back into the electrical grid when it is off. This prevents electrocution of line-workers who may need to repair damaged equipment. Although battery systems can provide backup power in case of an outage, a small generator is usually a more cost effective option for most homes.
What kind of contract would I have to sign with BELCO?
BELCO offers a standardized interconnection agreement for small scale renewable energy generation systems, which must be signed by both BELCO and the customer before you can connect your system to the electric grid. BELCO's Small Scale Renewable Generator Interconnection Agreement  provides a clear legal framework for your relationship with BELCO, which creates a consistent and safe way for small scale renewable generators to connect to BELCO’s electrical system.
How does the billing work?
Once the interconnection agreement is approved by BELCO, a new electric meter will be installed to track both the energy you consume and the energy you export to the electric grid. At the end of each month, all energy produced will be subtracted from the energy you have consumed and your bill adjusted appropriately. If you produce more than you consume over a six month period, you will be given a net bill credit on either the last day of June or the last day of December.