Solar in spotlight because of soaring electrical rates

Rising electric costs are hampering opportunities for budgeted businesses and making homeowners nervous to open the next month’s bill. After last year’s 28 percent hike in energy costs and another increase expected this year, residents and companies may be searching for reasonably cost alternatives to powering their homes or buildings.

Is solar energy the solution? At the ExpoConstrucción y Vivienda in Belén, representatives from a number of solar energy-based businesses like to think so. They said they’ve seen a spike in business following the increased rates. By installing panels that take the sun’s rays and use them to heat water or generate electricity, users can save themselves from falling victim to such expensive energy charges. And during the cloudy days that come with the rainy season, the products are promised to soak in energy from the non-visible part of the solar spectrum.

Esteban Solís Chávas, the general manager of Rilesa, said that using just one of the company’s high-tech panels for a family of four would significantly cut in kilowatt-hour consumption. The electricity bill is usually reduced by 40 percent each month, and the panels have a guaranteed lifespan of 25 years, he said.

Other brands like Green Energy, Solare and Solar Star are some of the major firms offering alternative energy in Costa Rica. They serve clients with private homes or pools, as well as the bigger investments into hotels or industries. Still, according to most of the solar-energy representatives on hand at the expo, the potential Gringo market has yet to be tapped.

Energy costs are projected to rise another 12 percent in 2014, according to Prodex, which advises that potential homebuilders take time to make sure their house will be as energy efficient as possible to avoid mounting costs or repairs in the future.

The expo, which continues on into the weekend at the Centro de Eventos de Pedregal in Belén, houses more than 600 stands that feature 230 different businesses. There are also 13 different financial institutions on hand to encourage prospective buyers to take out loans or set up payment plans.

Times for the remaining days are: Today from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Though entrance is free today, there is a 2,000-colon charge for visitors on Saturday and Sunday.

One aspect of the expo is the construction of a home that will be entered in an international contest in June. The home is called Trópika, and it is being built by 36 students from Tecnológico de Costa Rica, one of the country’s public universities.

Students will finish the job here and then disassemble the home and ship it to Versailles, France for reassembly. There the project will compete with 19 others from around the globe. Judges will be looking at the architecture, engineering, energy efficiency, functionality and many other factors. Students from 13 different majors designed and are building the project. The effort has been declared in the public interest by President Laura Chinchilla.

The event in France is called the Solar Decathlon 2014.

Costa Rica’s design is focused on senior citizens, a growing segment of the population, and is said to be environmentally friendly.

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