Planning For Solar Power In Belize

  • Added:
    Aug 17, 2013
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Aperfect location for solar power
Aperfect location for solar power
Photo by emily katherine may

To most people contemplating moving to a location off grid the thought of being without that familiar incoming cable from the local Electricity Company (and accompanying bill) is daunting.


It need not be so. There is a simple solution. Solar energy - free and abundant and sustainable. Ah you may say, but its expensive. I invite you to look closer.


If you are going to be living off grid then you will need two key things - a source of 110v Ac and some means of storing it. Low voltage (usually 12vDC) works but is really only suitable for very very basic living. Low voltage equivalents to most electrical devices do exist, but sooner or later you will live to regret not having 110v Ac just like home.


The source of electricity is either going to be a generator, a wind turbine, a water turbine, or solar panels.
Let me save you some time. A generator suitable for generating power over an extended period of hours is going to cost upwards of US$10k, plus  diesel at around US$6 per hour or so plus running costs repairs etc. Wind and water turbines sound attractive but unless you live at the top of a mountain wind turbines are not going to give sufficient power unless you buy a 100ft tower and a massive turbine. And water turbines will only work where you have a strong flow of water coming down a steep hillside. Not many beach locations fit THAT description. Which leaves us with solar panels. A decent set is going to cost US$5k


So on cost grounds the solar panels have it. The point often missed is that whatever system you buy, generator, solar or even turbines, you will still need a charge controller, an inverter and appropriate fusing and cabling.


That brings us to storage. There is only one practical way to store electricity in the home - with batteries. These are expensive but necessary if you intend to have power 24/7. The choice boils down to 6v golf cart batteries or state of the art 12v AGM or Gel cell batteries. The later being more expensive but longer lasting.


I hope I have dispelled the idea that solar is expensive. There are  number of installers in Belize who can advise on custom systems and install them for you.


Before approaching anyone however, there is one very important task awaiting you. You must do a power audit. That means you must lay out a plan of your new house/cabana and decide what electrical equipment is going in each room. Make a list and attach the power rating of each item. This info can be found easily on line. If you are on any kind of budget, forget air conditioning.   Instead, build or buy a property which faces the prevailing winds.
Also I would advise banning hair driers and microwaves both of which are heavy power users. Keep in mind that it is amount of current these things use which is important. The fact they may be switched on only for a few minutes is not the issue. So move from room to room agreeing(!) what equipment will be needed. Try to avoid anything which heats things (coffee makers, electric grills etc).  Power saving light bulbs are a must, incandescent bulbs are horrible consumers of power.


Also bear in mind that the more equipment you plan in, the more expensive your chosen power system will eventually be.


The first question any solar power engineer worth his salt will ask is how much power do you need?  Your power audit will give you (and him) the answer to this vital question.


OUR EXPERIENCE:  In 2005 we installed an 8Kw solar system in our beachside property. The solar system has given no trouble in that eight years (apart from some storm damage to the panels a year ago) We installed a new set of batteries last year to replace our gel cells which lasted an unbelievable eight years before showing signs of age. Our 8KW diesel backup generator has had a burst radiator, a failed control unit and a broken fan belt in that time. Such repairs so close to the sea on any engine are pretty well unavoidable. Fortunately spares are available and we have an excellent engineer to fit them.


I hope the above helps those thinking about going off grid. I have no hesitation in inviting you to “jump in, the water’s fine”.


Look out for my next article which is all about “Living with Solar Power"

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To find out more about our beautiful oceanfront home in Belize, which is for sale, visit www.yourhomeinbelize.com


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