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Is solar power realistic? Read this and let me know.



Several months ago FunLimón mounted solar panels on top of the roof that covers the basketball court. I was surprised to learn that the square footage of that one roof is nearly twice what we need to cover all our current power needs. This is nice to know since we will be adding some more panels in the future to power the additional building we have planned. 

  • I asked Bismarck, the Resident Director of FunLimón, how that "whacky solar power experiment" was going;
  • He said the panels and related equipment were installed and that the system had been active for nearly two weeks. 
  • Do we know how well it's going? I asked. "Like how much of FunLimón's energy it's going to be supplying?
  • "I just got a report from Alan V", he replied. (Alan V is Rancho Santana's Chief Engineer, and a sitting member of FunLimon's Board). "He said that it will be supplying all of it". 
  • "All of it? Really?"

My longstanding impression of solar energy was that it was costly and inefficient. I knew that progress was being made. But I never expected that these panels, located on top of the roof that covers that basketball court, would be sufficient to power the classrooms, administration buildings, gymnasium, and irrigation systems.

Here is how it works at FunLimón. On a normal sunny day, the solar panels produce more energy than FunLimón will use. The excess power produced by the panels isn't wasted. The system automatically takes that excess power and starts charging the batteries. This enables us to meet the power needs at night when the solar panels aren't producing by drawing off the batteries. With this system, the power consumption from the public grid is little or nothing.

Is solar power realistic

The system costs something like $45,000 to install, including all the panels, the batteries, and all other equipment. Normally FunLimón spends about $800 a month on electricity (electricity is not cheap in Nicaragua). So the payback time will be about five years. After that, the cost of our power will be minimum -only what it takes to maintain the equipment-. 

I did more research. And it turns out that solar power has come a long way from its crude beginnings 40-odd years ago. Back then, it was, as is often the case with new technology, not just inefficient but very costly. So costly that many predicted it could never compete with fossil fuels. It took almost 30 years to bring the cost down to $8 per watt in 2010. Today, it's dropped, on average, to about $3 per watt, with some systems producing energy at half that cost. 

This astonishing reduction is the result of making solar panels more efficient while, at the same time, reducing their costs. A parallel advancement was made with the batteries that store the energy produced by solar panels.

If solar technology continues to develop at half the speed of computer technology, we'll be powering our homes with solar-absorbing roof tiles while I'm still around to see it happen.  

Please send us your thoughts or recommendations at funlimonnicaragua@gmail.com

Or if you'd like to support our ongoing work, you can make a 100% tax-deductible donation by clicking here.




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