Alternative Electricity Generation – Photovoltaic Solar Panels and Sustainable Water usage

Finca Rosa Blanca is a model of Sustainable Tourism, which has at its core not only sustainable good practices in terms of  conservation but also in terms of generating financial stability (ie; sustainability) so that the company can continue to innovate and create newer and more solutions to the issues of win/win situations for its bottom line. After 24 years of being pioneers in this kind of green innovation, and in regard to your observations about solar or alternative energy sources we have grave misgivings about requiring photovoltaic solar panels as preferred means for generating electricity, as they are not actually sustainable at this point in time.

This is an issue that we believe is misunderstood and is a very complex and evolving topic, and one in which we have been very involved. The advantages to solar energy are on the surface very obvious; the major benefit being the mitigation of greenhouse gases that fossil fuels produce. In the case of Costa Rica, 92% of the electricity generated is from hydroelectric, Eolic (kinetic wind energy) or geothermal sources; none of which emits fossil fuels. The company that sells this electricity is a nationally owned cooperative, called Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz, from which we buy this clean power as a cooperative member (consumer). In the case of other countries or places where the “grids” mean that the electricity is created through fossil fuels, the transportation of these materials and their subsequent waste is also of concern, along with the financial impact, transportation wear and tear etc.

Basically, going off grid is a huge advantage for those in isolated areas where they cannot get access to the cooperative electricity generated through a nonpolluting or fossil fuel depleting grid.

The disadvantages, which for us in Costa Rica outweigh the advantages, are the following; solar energy is not viable at night and for a tourism business that relies on services that require electricity (ours is a luxury accommodation which requires 24 hour services to our guests) nor is it constant. Furthermore, it is drastically reduced during our rainy season where many hours of the day are spent in overcast or stormy conditions.  Beyond daily inconsistency, solar production decreases over winter months when there are fewer hours of sunlight and sun radiation is less powerful.

But more important to us, as a business (and sustainability also includes first and foremost, financial sustainability) is that solar energy production is relatively inefficient. At best it is efficient at 25% and this is not sustainable on a viable level for those businesses that have healthy alternatives to this kind of electricity. Furthermore, because of this inefficiency for converting solar power to electricity, it requires a tremendous amount of coverage in order for it to be useful. This then as a result requires us to cover a large area of land that could be used for other good practices, like reforestation, propagation of endemic species and erosion protection. Our abundance of foliage and trees does not allow much of our roofing area to be used, and what is available for sunlight is being utilized by solar panels for heating water, which is a very efficient and viable energy use. (100% of our energy for heating water is through solar panels)

Additionally, there is great polemic about the storage and inversion of solar photovoltaic cells to A/C current which for the time being in any achievable or viable financially option, requires lead based batteries. In other words, solar electricity storage technology has not reached its potential yet.  These batteries have a short life of a year or two and then need to be discarded; posing a new and more worrisome issue of what the lead and acid detritus does to the places it is discarded. They are very bulky, VERY expensive and not a good option for a business that needs to have reliability and recyclability in mind.

So in conclusion, we believe that the assumed benefits and “green” stamp that photovoltaic solar panels imply can be misleading and in our case, we are actually being much more sustainable using the system we have in place for generating electricity.

In the case of heating water, then there are no real arguments, as this is a 100% viable and efficient method for heating water and as a result, 100% of all of our hot water comes from this technology. 

Water:

All of our water comes from a well which is pumped to a holding tank and delivered via gravity to most of the hotel. We have several water saving methods which we use to monitor our water usage, including flow meters on every outlet of water which are checked daily and logged into a monitoring logbook. Not only does this allow us to keep tabs on our water use and spikes in its consumption, but also allows us find leaks quickly and efficiently.

All of our faucets, shower heads and water outlets have water saving devices and our water is checked every 3 months for contamination of any kind through a licensed and official professional laboratory approved by the Ministry of Health. Additionally all of our toilets are 3.8 liter flushes (1 gallon) and we have literature in the rooms and bathrooms asking our guests to conserve water.

Additionally, our pool water is sanitized and cleaned through copper/silver ionization which has a 100% avoidance of harmful chemicals such as chlorine, acids or other damaging materials. Finca Rosa Blanca uses all of this water from the rinsing during the pool cleaning (chemical free water) for irrigating the Coffee plants that are in the green area below the hotel.

As per the CST, there is a large portion of the biological category (25%) which is dedicated to water consumption and its monitoring.

For instance in many parts of the CST one can find norms such as the following

  • Design a plan whereby the principle norms of practice and operation of the company in environmental concerns would permit the best water quality
  • The company creates an integral operation for the use of its water taking into account the following aspects;
    • Better use of water through a monitoring system and optimization for reaching the goal of reducing its use.
    • Reusing residual water for the irrigation of its green areas
    • Guaranteeing the use of such water at its most efficient methodology
    • Utilizing any irrigation with the most efficient technology possible to minimize its use.
    • To maintain a monitoring and establish standards (benchmarks) for the utilization of water
    • Select grass species (and the species of all plants) that would best adapt to the climatic characteristics of the soil in its area
    • Establish areas of priority for irrigation, identifying those that require no or little irrigation
    • Ensure regular comparisons of the irrigation system with the intent of premature leakage, inundations form defective irrigation systems or that do not cover the area adequately,  bad pumping systems among others
    • Avoid irrigating in windy conditions or during the day
    • Follow a regular monitoring of the soil humidity levels
    • Use hydro-receptors for accumulating  ground water

We have scored 100% on the CST inspections which include all and more of these norms.  To go to their site: Finca Rosa Blanca Plantation

Finca Rosa Blanca recently updated their Eco Rating for Eco-TropicalResorts.com.  In part, the above was a response to the Eco Rating and it started a conversation.  The Eco Rating will be updated to reflect some of the views held here.  When I first started Eco Tropical Resorts there was no country getting 92% of their energy from renewable resources.  

Anthropological research at Mambo View Point in Tanzania

Research implemented @ www.MamboViewPoint.org

          A couple of days after the start of the year 2013, I arrived at Mambo to do a research for MamboViewPoint in combination with my study. At this moment, I am a master’s student in Social & Cultural Anthropology at the Free University in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. My aim for this research was to find out more about the perceptions of the people in Mambo village towards the development projects facilitated, and how this would influence their behavior. The contribution I would make to MamboViewPoint with this research was that they could improve their communication with the villagers. My duration of stay was almost three months. If I did not had to return to finish writing a thesis, I would have definitely stayed longer at this amazing place… 

Interview tree nursery group ‘Jipe Moyo’

The arrival

At the moment I arrived, I experienced a beautiful place in the Usambara Mountains: A stunning view over Tanzania and Kenya while I sometimes could catch a glimpse of Mount Kilimanjaro. Before this time, I have been in Tanzania three times for holidays and an internship, but that I missed this place felt as a missing for my previous trips to Tanzania.

Before I arrived at this place, I had some serious doubts about how I would experience these three months. First of all, I am really a person who loves cities and busyness around himself: My internship for my former study was mainly in Arusha. During this internship, I went for a program towards a very remote area for one week, and at the end of that week I really felt ‘homesick’ to the big city. Now I was going to stay at a remote area for three months, which is way longer than this one week during my former internship.

Another point which I was a bit worried about was my level of Kiswahili. Before arrival, I spoke a bit of Kiswahili, but this was on such a level that it was not really useful to work with. Despite of these worries, I also looked forward to this adventure: This would become a personal challenge for me, and I would try as much as possible to contribute useful anthropological knowledge to MamboViewPoint.

The worries I had at the beginning quickly disappeared after my arrival. I noticed that Mambo and MamboViewPoint is a nice place with a friendliness of people, which I did not experience that much as during my travels around the world. Herman, Marion, and the rest of the staff gave me a very warm welcome, and because of them, I knew I arrived at a good place.

The start

Footballmatch with ‘Dogodogo Stars’

Since almost one year before my departure to Tanzania, I have already started reading literature and scientific articles about this topic. At the moment I arrived, it was time to assess all this knowledge in ‘the field’. I started with just observing what was going on. Luckily for me, shortly after my arrival I was brought by one of the staff members, Kipimo, to a general village meeting. He really took care of me, and could explain me good what was going on. Together with Ndege, the local manager, I discussed in the first week how to come in contact with the people. He had some very good ideas which helped me to present myself more to the people of Mambo. Another staff member, Amiri, brought me into contact with the younger generation of the village. He is one of the members of the local football team ‘Dogodogo Stars’, and since the first week I also became a member of this football team. Also Herman and Marion helped me a lot during some brainstorms about what is going on in the area, and provided me a clear picture of Mambo by telling about important and less important happenings.

The process

Like always, the start is the most difficult part of a research, and in the beginning I was worried about how to start. In the first two weeks, I conducted interviews with only two villagers. These two were staff members of MamboViewPoint, so I could not be satisfied. However, I also put a lot of effort in the beginning by just talking with people, participating in development projects or social activities. It turned out that by doing this, I built the foundation for a large numbers of interviews in a later phase of the research.

In the beginning I was struggling with finding translators. The guides of MamboViewPoint were did a good job, but they were very busy with trips for tourists which made it difficult to make appointments with people. I was very lucky that I met Hoza, who became my research assistant. I already knew him, because he was participating in a tree nursery project. It turned out that his level of English was satisfying to me, and he had good ideas on how he could help me. After his first time translating for me, I was convinced that he was the right person who was going to help me making this research a success. Thanks to him, I adjusted my goal of 25 interviews towards 30 interviews, which became in the end 33 interviews!

During my talks with the people in Mambo village and surroundings, I realized that people really enjoyed my visit. Most people experienced the interviews not only as being a passive research subject, but also as sharing knowledge in two directions. Just visiting people at their home and listen to what they think made people very happy, which get symbolized by the disappointed reactions by some people if I did not interviewed them yet. Additionally, of all the people whom I have interviewed, there was only one person who was not willing to be interviewed.

Interview with one of the villagers

The interviews and participating in meetings and social activities resulted that it was for me not possible anymore to walk in the village without meeting people. While I left for walking to the village, I heard my nickname ‘Maliki’ called by many people shouted. In the beginning of my stay I was always 10 minutes too early for an appointment, while at the end I was always 5 minutes too late for an appointment. This was because I had to greet so many people on my way.

The importance of anthropology is that the researcher is his own research tool. This means that I had to come closer to my research subjects by talking and participating in their lives. This will open doors to achieve more results by making use of my senses. I feel like I really achieved this in more ways. People opened themselves a lot to me. First of all, the people in this area are very open and friendly by themselves, and show a lot of hospitality. However, I think I increased their openness by really showing interest towards their lives. I talked with them, stopped for a greeting while walking in the village, hang out with the people in the village center, and participated a few times in voluntary village works. Also my Kiswahili at the end of my stay really improved. Whereas I could only say ‘Hello, how are you?’ at the beginning, at the end I could introduce myself and present the aim of my interview fully by myself. This was partly because I have spent many hours sitting with the MamboViewPoint staff and just talking in Kiswahili.

The end

I already knew it a bit, but after this research I discovered I am studying the best study there is: doing research by communicating with as much as possible with people. Fortunately, the people I researched in this case also turned out to be amazing friendly people. This also resulted to me that I felt very sad in the days before my departure. Despite of this, because I was almost leaving, I knew I had to enjoy every moment of being here even more.

But with the coming of the end of this research, it is also time to analyze my findings of this research:

First of all, anthropologists always have the tendency to argue the good things bad, and the bad things good. However, Herman and Marion made it very difficult for me to criticize their projects they are implementing. The reactions of the people in the village made me realize how much the people appreciate MamboViewPoint. During my conversations, it turned out that many people saw MamboViewPoint as a new alternative to bring more development in this area. This is because the ones who are supposed to facilitate development, the local leaders, are experienced as being not reliable. The people in the village experience MamboViewPoint as much more reliable in facilitating development, so people depend more on them. However, this could be a disadvantage, because in the end it are the people themselves who should develop the area. Still, people are very happy with certain developments on which they had to wait for many years, but are brought by MamboViewPoint very fast.

Another very important thing I found out during my stay here is that the willingness of people to participate in development project is very high. However, they put some restrictions on their participation: As long as the project is transparent and the facilitators can show what the benefits are, the people in Mambo are very willing to contribute their efforts to a development project.

These are some of the main findings during my stay here. But at the moment I arrive back in The Netherlands, I have to analyze all my collected data and start writing my thesis. This means that I am going to spend my time for three months in the university library. While analyzing and writing, I will constantly think back of this great time here: In this period, I noticed how much I love this country and its people, and how much I want to come back to the place where I had one of the best periods of my life!

By Mark de Waard friend from Mambo