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Harnessing the power of the sun

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Robin Mayor was at her wits' end after the double hit of Hurricanes Fay and Gonzalo. It was not the first time she had been left without power for days at a time. After Hurricane Emily in 1987, she was in the dark for three weeks with a six-month old baby.

“I'd become much less tolerant,” she said of the back-to-back storms in 2014. “I was out 13 days and I have reached the age where it's no longer fun. It brought a side of my personality that I really didn't like and that's when I started looking at getting a nice gas-powered generator.”

Her nephew, David Outerbridge, suggested solar battery storage.

She wasn't averse to the idea. In 2011 she'd had a solar water heater installed at her property after learning that her pool pump was not very efficient, and she was using 15 times more gas than she should for hot water.

With that in mind, Ms Mayor decided to give her home an overhaul. She updated her appliances, installed timers on closet heaters, changed her light bulbs, quit using air conditioning and replaced her glass-fronted refrigerator, all in hopes of reducing her carbon footprint.

Two years later she has added photovoltaic roof panels. It was the start of her “long journey to battery power”.

“My bill was going down nicely. It was 75 per cent less,” she said.

“[What I did was] more for energy saving than dollar saving, but who wants to spend money when you don't have to? You can rely on the sun to power your house.”

Ms Mayor believes her efforts were partly linked to her upbringing. Her father, Peter Darling, has had a solar water heater for 30 years.

“It's funny, some of the things that you do for the environment I grew up doing because my father didn't waste money by having the lights on,” she said.

“We would reuse plastic bags, reuse tinfoil, turn all the lights off when we left the room.

“We used to tease my mother for hanging tea bags on the line,” she laughed. “Now I'm doing it, but for different reasons.”

Stuart Kriendler at BeSolar has installed an Aquion saltwater-based battery system in the lawyer's garage — the final stage of her project. Ms Mayor is the first person in Bermuda to use them.

The batteries are 38 inches tall, but have a 13-inch footprint. At 3ft by 2ft, they're “quite neat” and live in the corner of her garage. The American-made batteries also have cradle-to-cradle certification.

“They are completely non-toxic, impossible to catch fire, impossible to explode, the safest and most environmentally friendly battery ever produced,” Mr Kriendler said.

“It costs more than lead acid, but it's going to last five times longer. And it's much safer.”

Ms Mayor added: “I basically have everything I need to keep going: hot showers, fridge and stove. I wanted to have a system where it would either automatically trigger when Belco went off or I would just have to turn a switch.

“It's a bit more complicated because you have to have everything rewired. [But] it's dead simple. We had to just turn the Belco thing off, turn the battery thing on and it all worked.”

Potentially, she could go “off the grid”.

She plans to test the system regularly, switching her power source at the weekends to see how she fares.

“Ultimately, there's no reason why I couldn't have it on half the time,” she said. “If I'm out working all day, why do I need the rest on?

“If I wanted to come home and roast a chicken I could turn it back on to Belco and the oven would work.”

She admitted the high cost of going green might be a deal-breaker for some.

“A lot of people are put off by the price, by the initial outlay, but that's six years' payback time,” she said of the solar roof panels.

“If you do it while you're still in your income-earning days you've got the benefit when you're earning less or nothing.

“It was a big investment, no question, but it's worth it. And it's silent and clean.”

Saving cash and the environment: photovoltaic roof panels use solar power for energy and have helped to reduce Robin Mayor's energy bills (Photograph supplied)
Eco-friendly energy: photovoltaic roof panels harness solar power and have helped to reduce Robin Mayor's energy bills (Photograph supplied)
Going green: Stuart Kriendler, of BeSolar, shows Robin Mayor how to switch from Belco to batteries. The Aquion saltwater-based batteries are environmentally friendly (Photograph supplied)
Easy to use: BeSolar's Stuart Kriendler demonstrates the switch (Photograph supplied)
Easy to store: the batteries are housed in a corner of Robin Mayor's garage (Photograph supplied)

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Published June 29, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 29, 2016 at 8:22 am)

Harnessing the power of the sun

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