Solar energy heats Costa Rican dairies, cutting costs

Signal of change / Solar energy heats Costa Rican dairies, cutting costs

By Alex Caldwell / 02 Jul 2015

Renewable energy firm Enertiva is cutting the cost of heating and the level of emissions within Costa Rica's dairy sector. It is installing solar-water heaters to clean the milking and processing equipment in over 350 farms across Costa Rica, saving 2,000MWh of electricity and 700 tons of CO2 a year, and contributing towards Costa Rica’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2021.


The scheme has been deployed through the Dos Pinos dairy cooperative, which buys 80% of milk produced in Costa Rican dairies. The high level of solar radiation and electricity costs in Costa Rica means that an investment of US$1,200 for a 4m2 panel and 200 litre tank will be paid back within 2 years. The cooperative also provides loans to its farmers to buy solar water-heaters at an annual interest rate of 14% and promotes the financing programme through its network of agricultural supply stores and advisors.


The size and specification of the panel is bespoke to each farm depending on the facilities and number of cattle. With solar thermal panels heating the water to a consistent 50⁰C, farmers can produce better quality milk by keeping equipment cleaner, and reduce the amount of detergent needed.


Enertiva is expanding into neighbouring Panama and Guatemala and aims to spread the technology across the whole dairy sector of Central America. It is adamant that the technology is applicable throughout the tropics. It won the Ashden award for Energy and Agriculture this month, winning a network of winners and advisors as well as prize-money to support it to scale.  


Image Caption: Could solar heat be coming to a farm near you?

Image Credit: B Garett/Flickr

So what?

Costa Rica generates about 93% of its electricity from renewables - one of the highest contributions of renewable in the world - mainly through hydroelectricity generations. Fossil-fuel generation is only generated when the demand exceeds the supply from renewables. This can occur during daily demand peaks, or when there is a lack of rainfall to provide water for hydroelectric plants.


However, the cost of electricity in Costa Rica is around US$0.27 per kWh (compared to an average of US$0.16 per kWh in the UK); this expense, combined with the isolation of many of citizens in rural areas, means it is cheaper and easier to heat water with sunlight over electicity or gas.


The barrier to uptake of solar heat technology is the initial outlay and the time it takes to recoup the investment, both of which have been improved by the work of Enertiva.


Business Green (2015, May 29) Renewable Heat Incentive pays out nearly £21 million in first year


Ashden (2015, June) Solar water heaters help farms keep dairies clean


The Ecologist (2015, June 4) Solar heat - transforming rural enterprises in the tropics


What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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