San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Solar Energy Options Put Sunlight to Work

(Part two in a two-part series on solar energy options in Costa Rica.)HOMEOWNERS in Costa Rica interested in saving money and helping the environment can always look to the sun for help. Aplethora of solar energy options are available here, ranging from simple solar water heaters to large-scale solar panel systems.Companies that specialize in solar energy can help assess the needs of each home to find the right solar solution.To begin using solar energy, homeowners must first consider their energy consumption, how much they want to save on energy bills and how much they want to invest, said Carlos Oreamuno, president of Consenergy S.A., a San José company that installs Shell solar panel systems.“There is no formula for choosing a solar energy system,” said Oreamuno.“Each case is different.”A home’s geographic location is another factor to consider. Installing just one solar panel will lower any home’s power bill; however, it is not cost efficient to run a San José home entirely on solar power, according to Oreamuno.Because of the high cost of equipment and the relatively inexpensive and abundant electricity available in urban areas, a hybrid system that uses solar panels and electricity from the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) will save metropolitan homeowners the most money, he said. However, in remote, rural areas, where connecting to an energy grid is difficult and expensive, homes can benefit from a larger system.Before buying any equipment, solar experts say, homeowners must first make their house more energy efficient.“People have to think about what they require, and have appliances that are adequate for their use. A house with two people doesn’t need a refrigerator for ten people,” Oreamuno said.USING solar energy has pros and cons. Advantages include owning the energy you produce and administering it as you please, according to Oreamuno.Also a plus for the environment, solar energy is a form of “clean energy” that does not emit harmful cloro fluorocarbons (CFCs).Disadvantages include having to depend on the weather and receiving a limited amount of energy, Oreamuno said. Options for homeowners interested in solar power include:SOLAR-POWERED WATER HEATERSUSING solar energy to heat water is one of the simplest and least expensive ways to reduce a home’s energy consumption. Swissol S.A. installs solar-powered water-heating equipment for homes and pools. Each system is composed of a collector with copper wires that heat water and a storage tank, according to Swissol president Reto Rechsteiner, who came to Costa Rica from Switzerland 11 years ago.A small system that provides enough hot water for three or four people comes with a collector and 53-gallon tank and costs about $1,300, including installation within the Central Valley area.A 120-gallon system large enough to heat a Jacuzzi costs about $3,100. Rechsteiner said most systems will pay themselves off within four to five years. Water collectors come with a seven-year warranty and tanks include three-year warranties.Alajuela homeowner Gino Baumann installed a solar water-heating system eight years ago and said the investment paid for itself within two years.“I’ve worked in development for 30 years and realize that we have to preserve resources,” said Baumann. “The sun is free; it’s a very functional system.”Swissol systems connect to the electrical energy grid and use it as backup when there is insufficient sunlight.To heat home pools, Swissol imports and installs Heliocol heating systems from Israel. Costing about $2,800 for a 4×6- meter pool, the system pumps pool water to a roof collector where it is heated and pumped back to the pool.SOLAR PANELSTHESE systems use panels to collect the sun’s energy, a converter to transform energy from its direct current (DC) form into adaptable current (AC) form for home use, and batteries to store the electricity.Consenergy’s Oreamuno estimates that the owner of a small house could install $9,000 worth of solar-power equipment, which includes a 25-year warranty, to cut use of ICE energy in half. This would save about $64 per month on energy bills, and the system would pay for itself in 12 years.Interdinámica S.A. is another San José-based solar-power company that works mostly in rural areas, but can also install systems in metropolitan areas. Sales director Manrique Sánchez said a small solar energy system which runs four lights at a time, a color television and cell phone charger would cost about $1,500.A larger system with enough power for a microwave, radio and washing machine costs about $4,000 and would pay itself off over a 10-year period.Equipment comes with a 25-year warranty.COMPLETELY SOLAR-POWERED HOUSESFOR those who live in remote areas such as the Osa Peninsula, where ICE wires are few and far between, it may be cheaper to install a solar-power system to completely power the house than pay to connect to the grid, according to Thomas Fees, owner of Intitech, S.A., a company based out of the Osa Peninsula. Fees, who is German, has been in Costa Rica 15 years.Intitech offers a $10,000 package that includes solar panels, batteries, fans and a special low-consumption refrigerator. No converter is necessary if the house uses special appliances that run on DC power.Fees estimates this investment would pay itself off within 15 years.COOKING WITH THE SUNAT the Universidad Nacional (UNA) solar energy fair June 7, bread was baked in a solar-powered oven.These ovens, which can be ordered from the university, absorb sunlight with a black tarp and conduct heat with aluminum and copper wires. The heat stays trapped between two glass panels and reaches up to 170 degrees Celsius, according to UNA solar-energy technician Carlos Delgado.The oven was one of the models on display, alongside a solar-powered fruit dehydrator, water heater and a house powered completely by solar energy. All models were developed by UNA’s solar-energy department.Delgado said smart energy use goes hand in hand with the consumer’s education. Through workshops and fairs open to the public, UNA seeks to “divulge information to the community about systems that are adaptive to the environment, money-saving and easy to use,” said Delgado.Two models are available, according to Delgado. The smaller one (40 x 60 cm) costs ¢15,000 ($31), and the larger one (45 x 80 cm) costs ¢40,000 ($83).For further information about solar power, contact: Swissol, 438-1130, Interdinamica, 221-8333 or 258-6245, www.interdinamic.comConsenergy, 290-0668 Intitech S.A. 735-5773, 735-5521,www.intitechsolar.comUNA Department of Oceanography, 277-3594

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