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When Sustainability Met Culture: 12 Months on at the National Museum of Bermuda

Museums are pretty expensive things. You’ve got the usual overheads for personnel and utilities — but you’ve got the additional costs involved with developing and maintaining exhibitions. And then there’s the research behind the exhibits and the need for constant investment in the culture and heritage you’re preserving, studying and displaying.

As a visitor to a museum, the cost of putting on the exhibition you’re visiting probably isn’t anywhere near the front of your mind. But for curators, it must be a constant challenge — and any measure that can unlock savings and make funds available must be very welcome.

Barely a year ago, the National Museum of Bermuda was the beneficiary of the installation of solar PV system to help reduce its utility costs. And 12 months on, that installation is coming into its own and supporting not just the museum’s energy needs, but it’s financial planning and business strategy.

The ground-mounted installation was co-funded by the Stempel Foundation and Low Carbon, a UK-based renewable investment company, and at 194 panels and more than 3,500 square feet, it is still the largest installation of its kind in the country, with the expectation it would produce 93,600 kWh of clean energy a year.

Related: Achieving Sustainability with Solar at the National Museum of Bermuda

The location of the installation certainly wasn’t arbitrary. Rather, it was part of a partnership effort to support the Land Rover BAR sailing team while it was competing and training around Bermuda for the America’s Cup last year. But 12 months on, what difference has it really made?

The answer is a pretty profound one. The installation is well ahead of schedule in offsetting the sailing team’s carbon footprint from its training and competition — and has already offset approximately half the carbon footprint produced by the team last year. And it has had a significant impact on the Museum’s progress towards sustainability and capacity building.

The museum’s team has seen its utility costs cut by around 20 percent over the last year through reliance on electricity generated from the solar panels. And that has been a significant benefit to the museum’s finances — freeing up resources which can be redirected from basic overheads to core activities.

The consequence of the installation has been that the museum has been able to both increase its investment in cultural preservation and fund an intern program training local students in museum practice — supporting the history of the island and providing a tangible benefit to the local economy. And that’s without factoring in the educational impact of the solar panels themselves.

The solar installation has saved around 43 tonnes of carbon in its first year, providing an invaluable example to the local community and an important educational resource. The solar panels don’t just power the museum — they are an opportunity to educate local school pupils on the importance of tackling climate change, and how electricity can be generated through renewable and low-carbon technologies.

Given everything it’s achieved in just 12 months, the National Museum of Bermuda’s solar installation has the potential to provide a longstanding and important legacy in both financial and educational terms. The solar panels should entirely offset the carbon footprint of the sailing team within a year — and then will be directly reducing the carbon footprint of the museum. The installation is serving as an exemplar as to how young people can learn about renewable energy and the risks of climate change. And most importantly, it is supporting crucial investment in Bermudian culture.