Archive for March, 2014

The Downsides to Solar Power

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The negative side to solar power

By Andrea Zolna and Geoff McCabe

You’ve probably heard all about the benefits of solar power, but it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t mention some of the down-sides. Overall, every project or home will be different and it’s up to you to decide what makes the most sense.

Solar Power – The Reasons Why Not

1. Toxicity of the Production of Panels and Batteries

The biggest downside to solar energy is the toxicity of production of the panels and especially the batteries. Most of the panels and batteries are made of or produce heavy metals like silicon, mercury, lead and cadmium.

    Mercury: The manufacturing of photovoltaic cells produces some mercury which is highly volatile and can be very harmful to the environment.
    Lead: deep cycle batteries are required by solar arrays to ensure a constant supply of power (even when the sun has gone down). These batteries contain lead which is highly toxic and can lead to damage of marine life and even children.
    Cadmium: Cadmium is sealed inside the solar panels and is harmless, but if leaks, can cause serious environmental damage. If Panels are disposed of properly, this substance can leech into the soil and water causing major damage.
    Carbon Emissions: Solar energy’s biggest hurdle is that it often needs regular electricty (Coal, Oil) to aid in the production of it’s panels. Solar energy is not at a place where it can self-sustain.

One way to reduce some of the environmental impact of solar energy is to choose grid-tied technology over off-grid technology. This means your solar energy is tied directly to your electricity and eliminates the use of batteries.

After doing extensive research on this subject, it seems most experts agree that while the construction of solar panels requires the use of some heavy metals, coal and oil require the same metals, and at a much higher rate. “While manufacturing the cells does require harmful metals such as lead and mercury and also produces some greenhouse gases, the toxic emissions are up to 300 times lower than those created by coal power plants, according to scientists with the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York.” They also agree that any carbon emissions produced by the manufacturing of these solar panels would be offset in as low as 3 months. Check out this article for more information.

2. High Power Needs

Even residential systems require a large surface area of solar panels to be effective. In today’s world of high energy needs this can mean a lot of space being used up. The other problem is that some high energy sources (air conditioners especially) need an enormous amount of energy to run. When designing your home or business it is recommended that you keep air flow and shade in mind to minimize the need for such power.

There is also a company in Costa Rica that sells direct solar energy air conditioners. This may be a good first step for someone interested in solar technology. Instead of using the sun to convert to energy, it actually converts to liquid refrigerant –

3. Crystalline or Amorphous Silicon?

Silicon can be used in it’s various states for solar panelling. These states can vary in quality and price. It is up to the consumer to be aware of the price differences as well as the efficiency rates.

    Mono-Crystalline – These cells are made from pure mono-crystalline silicon and have almost no defects or impurities. Efficiency: 15%
    PolyCrystalline PV – These cells are made from a number of different grades of mono-crystalline silicon. They are less expensive and less effective than mono-crystalline. Efficiency: 12%
    Amorphous Silicon – These cells are made of silicon atoms in a thin layer instead of a crystal structure. These are lower in cost but also tend to degrade quicker and have a lower efficiency. Efficiency: 10% or lower

It’s important you ask your installer or manufacturer what type of silicon you are getting and that you understand that a lower cost will likely be a lower grade of silicon.

4. Cleaning

The maintenance on solar panels can depend a lot on the region you live in. If you live in a windy or dusty are you may need to clean your panels once a week. Most areas need to be cleaned a few times a year.

For some people this is too much maintenance. You try to power wash your panels but sometimes this could be hard to manage. many companies suggest having solar panels be placed somewhere accessible but this obviously poses questions and concerns about space and the fragility of the panels.

Many people think that hiring someone to clean your panels is the best solution. In the July 25 issue of Solar Energy by the University of California, San Diego, they strongly advised against doing that..

“Researchers found panels that hadn’t been cleaned, or rained on, for 145 days during a summer drought in California, lost only 7.4 percent of their efficiency. Overall, for a typical residential solar system of 5 kilowatts, washing panels halfway through the summer would translate into a mere $20 gain in electricity production until the summer drought ends—in about 2 ½ months. For larger commercial rooftop systems, the financial losses are bigger but still rarely enough to warrant the cost of washing the panels. On average, panels lost a little less than 0.05 percent of their overall efficiency per day.

5. High up-front cost

One of the main disadvantages to solar energy is the high up front cost. You must purchase the panels, have them installed, and maintain them properly. Even though experts agree that you are likely to cover your costs in less than 10 years, it can be daunting to the single home or business owner. Right now ICE is in the middle of a pilot program but will not purchase power back from you. If you tie onto the grid and create extra power during the day, they will credit you but not buy it back. If you decide to go off grid you will need to make sure you have enough power and panels to sustain yourself on days when there’s no sun.

In Costa Rica, a new company is now offering “free” solar panel installations for qualifying homeowners and businesses. They will install and maintain your system, and sell the power to you at a lower price than you’re paying with local power company (ICE).

6. Asthetics

There’s no way around the fact that solar panels are just plain ugly. Only a serious eco-geek looks at a house covered with solar panels on its roof and thinks it’s beautiful. Particularly in Costa Rica, where everything is so beautiful and wild, those ugly bright shiny blue rectangles are a serious eyesore that really stand out against a nice spanish-style roof or the green jungle.

Greenbuilding should make a house more livable and beautiful, so how to get around this problem? Companies are working on other types of panels, but for now, we’re pretty much stuck with these things the way they are. One option is to put them on a carport rather than on your roof, or to mount them on the ground on posts. Consider building some type of shade structure, such as a gazebo, perhaps covered by plant walls, with the panels on top of it.

7. Obsolete Technology

Nearly every month, a new solar power start-up announces a breakthrough technology that solves one of solar power’s biggest drawbacks, such as new cells that double the power output, or non-toxic panel production, or drastically lowered prices. Every year, huge worldwide competition for solar has been lowering the price, so it’s tempting to just keep waiting for a better technology to come around before you invest and get stuck with obsolete technology that you end up wanting to replace a few years later. This is particularly true because a solar power installation takes so many years to pay itself back. So, think of solar power as a long-term bet and if you’re happy with today’s tech over the lifetime of the system to pay it back, then go for it now. Otherwise, keep waiting because, like computers, this stuff keeps getting rapidly better every year.

Resources and Additional Info

Solar Power in Costa Rica

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Solar Panel and Sun

Solar Power: Why?

In 2014, most people know what solar power is. In fact, many eco-aware people dream of the day they only use solar and wind to power their homes and businesses. They love the idea. They romanticize it. But then reality strikes:

    “It takes too much time.”
    “Maybe in a few years when it’s more cost effective”
    “Most of Costa Rica’s power is sustainable anyways, so why bother?”
    “it’s just not practical”

I’ve heard it all. It will never be the right time. It will always seem expensive. Not doing it will always be easier. But the time is now. Solar panels are at their cheapest in years. The earth can’t wait. Don’t believe me?

The benefits are obvious. The sun gives us endless clean energy and can save you money in soaring electricity bills. Solar energy is easy to maintain and can be used in the smallest or largest of spaces.

1. Power costs a lot in Costa Rica

We are lucky to live in a place where most of our power comes from renewable energy sources. That being said, electrical power in Costa Rica costs on average $0.28 per kilowatt-hour and can exceed $0.38 during higher demand peak hours. The average cost to American consumers is $0.11 per kilowatt-hour. Remember that with inflation, energy costs are only going to rise.
The other important fact that makes solar power in Costa Rica so BLANK is that the government does not impose tariffs or taxes on alternative energy equipment. Equipment costs are comparable to those in North America and Europe.

2. ICE will credit you for excess power created.

Costa Rica has approved the grid connection which allows all renewable energy systems to connect and feed power to ICE. Most experts agree that solar power can show a return on investment of about 6-7 years. So it’s initially a large investment, but in less than 10 years you will be paying nothing for power instead of paying ICE forever.
“ICE’s Distributed Generation, a pilot program that kicked off in October 2010, trades home power production at the same rate as it sells power. While fixed-tariff is a use-or-lose program, meaning that ICE will not yet cut a check for excess power production, the program allow credits for excess power production in some months to be drawn against in months in which more power is used then produced across yearly intervals.”

3. It’s Easy to install and maintain

Solar panels require almost no maintenance once installed. About the only thing the owner needs to do is keep the panels clean. Too much mud or dust can reduce the amount of sunlight being absorbed. Not to worry though: This isn’t something that needs to be done very week. Depending on the season you would probably need to hose them down on average 2-4 times per year. Aside om keeping your panels clean you just need to make occasional check ups to make sure your parts are in working order. The panels should never need to be replaced,and the batteries/ inverter maybe once every 10 years. This low-maintenance makes it a great choice for home or businesses.

4. Supporting Costa Rica

Costa Rica is competing to become the first carbon-neutral nation. It was declared a national goal to achieve this carbon-neutrality by 2021. Every step we make towards 100% renewable energy is a step in the right direction for Costa Rica. While 80% of our power comes from hydroelectric – that still has a carbon output. Solar power is 100% carbon-free technology. By switching to solar, you are effectively helping to offset our nation’s carbon output.

5. Perfect climate for Solar Energy

Some people worry that solar energy is not reliable because it only works when the sun is out. Thankfully we have lots of sun in Costa Rica! Remember: Solar power also works on a reserve system, so even if we have a day with no sun, you won’t all of a sudden be out of power. The sun has been around for billions of years and isn’t likely to burn out in yours or your children’s lifetime. It’s a good energy to bet on!

6. Environmental Impact

This is the easy one for most get on board with but it’s worth mentioning. Solar energy is clean, renewable and carbon-free. Costa Rica still generates 7% of it’s energy with oil fired plants. Apx. 80% of Costa Rica’s power is generated by hydroelectric dams. While this is a much better option than coal, hydroelectric reservoirs still output substantial greenhouse gasses. The absence of tree or other plants near the reservoirs also means that native sinks aren’t there to absorb the CO2 emissions.
Coal extraction doesn’t just pollute our air.

    – Air pollution from coal caused cancer, smog, respiratory infections & acid rain.
    – Coal combustion waste is the world’s second largest contributor to landfills
    – Coal and coal extraction are one of the biggest contributors to global warming
    – According to the reports issued by the World Health Organization in 2008 and by environmental groups in 2004, coal particulates pollution are estimated to shorten approximately 1,000,000 lives annually worldwide
    – Surface mining of coal causes direct and indirect damage to wildlife

I could go on, but you get the picture! Now, if solar power seems to be the perfect source of free power for everyone, why isn’t the whole world using it? The answer is that Solar Power isn’t really for everyone (yet) for various reasons. There are hidden downsides, that I’ll explain in another article here: The Downsides of Solar Power.

For an extensive list of every solar power supplier in Costa Rica I could find, click here: Solar Power Providers in Costa Rica


Costa Rica Solar Power Suppliers

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Costa Rica Solar Power Installation

List of Solar Power Suppliers in Costa Rica

ASI Power – Jim Ryan’s company specializing in sustainable energy and advanced telemetry systems
+506 2665-6161

Costa Rica Solar Solutions – Off Grid, Grid Tied, and Hybrid Solar solutions as well as pool, well, irrigation and hot water solar systems
Phone: +506 8910-848

Energia Solar Costa Rica – Solar Energy Instalation
Santa Ana
+506 4030-1272

Energy Saver – Solar Air Conditioning units (Turns solar energy into refrigerant), Hot Water Tanks, Solar Energy
San José
+ 506 2282-4910

Hola Solar – Commercial Solar Power
+506 8710 9822

Interdinámica S.A. – Affordable Solar Power Installation and Maintenance. Operates nationwide.
Central Valley
Luis +506 8344 4559

Inti Tech Solar Energy Systems – Solar Systems (grid tied and stand alone), micro-hydro and more
Osa Peninsula
+506 2438-3246

Osa Water Works – Potable water supplies, pipelines, irrigation, Solar Energy, Sanitation
Peninsula de Osa

Poderco – Solar Power (grid tied and stand alone), High efficiency pool pumps
Osa Peninsula
+506 2735 5843

Pricemart – Among thousands of other products, they have for sale a simple solar panel system that would be suitable for a small cabina.
Escazú, Heredia, Alajuela, Etc (multiple locations)

Purasol – Renewable Energy: Solar Panels, Solar Photovoltaic panels, Wind Turbines & Water Turbines
San José
+506 2772 1498

Renergetica – Solar Panel Sales ​
San José
+506 6162 2020

Sersca – Heliotek Photo Voltaic Modules & Systems.
Central Valley
+506 2273-4545

Solar Costa Rica – Solar Power, Solar Farms, Energy Audits, Solar Hot Water, Wind Generators
Central Valley
+506 4000 1845

Solar Energy Costa Rica – Solar Installation and Products

Solar Ing – Susatainable Design, Solar Water Pumps, Photovoltaic Solar Panels
San José
+506 8307 6527

Solar Verde Costa Rica – Solar Power (Direct, Off Grid, Grid Tied), Evaluating and Consulting

Swiss Sol – Solar Heating, Pool Heating, Water Reuse Systems (treatment of black and grey water)
+506 2438-1130

Wind Solar Power Costa Rica – Solar & Wind Power
+506 8307 0164

“Palazzo Park” Eco Condominiums

Beachfront project planned for Manuel Antonio

Eco Palazzo ParkI found this interesting bit of news and green building design today, from an article in 2010. Their website seems to no longer exist, so I expect that the project has been dropped.

Many people have envisioned these types of green buildings, but few have actually been built. The additional cost deters serious investors, and perhaps the whole idea of a green “building” or condominium doesn’t work.

Why? Because the type of person who is willing to pay the extra money for this type of construction just doesn’t want to live in a condo. They’d prefer their own small one-acre farm with fruit trees, garden, etc. So the market is small, and so this type of concept is difficult to sell to investors. Most investors care about only one thing: making money. There are very few visionaries out there who just want to see something built and hope it will capture the public’s imagination enough to generate sales enough to pay for it.

This is ironic in some ways because studies have now shown that the most eco-friendly way to live is in dense cities and large buildings, and the worst is suburban sprawl.

Link the article:

Website of the project: (now defunct)

Video from the project: