Alternative Electricity Generation – Photovoltaic Solar Panels and Sustainable Water usage

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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.  

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