Sustainability

Central America has an abundance of sun.  This creates a prime opportunity for solar power, as long as proper steps are taken in the design phase to ensure the construction, commissioning, and maintenance of the system is done properly.  There are many details that need to be addressed to assure sustainability, including proper sighting of the solar array, ease of construction, ease of control, establishing a maintenance regimen, training community members, and creating a contingency fund for component replacement/repair.

Ultimately, the goal of these water projects is to give the communities independent control of their fresh water supply.  By implementing industry best practices in the design and implementation of these systems, we are laying the groundwork for long term sustainability.  By prioritizing sustainability, locally-sourced components, and simplicity in design, our hope is to make the long term operations and maintenance of these water systems as easy as possible for local communities.  

The model for implementing these water systems is focused on independent community control and fiscal responsibility.  Ultimately, the responsibility for the success of the systems is in the hands of local people that rely on the systems for fresh, clean water.  When a system is well designed and community leaders are well prepared, these systems have proven to be sustainable. 

Central America has an abundance of sun.  This creates a prime opportunity for solar power, as long as proper steps are taken in the design phase to ensure the construction, commissioning, and maintenance of the system is done properly.  There are many details that need to be addressed to assure sustainability, including proper sighting of the solar array, ease of construction, ease of control, establishing a maintenance regimen, training community members, and creating a contingency fund for component replacement/repair.

Ultimately, the goal of these water projects is to give the communities independent control of their fresh water supply.  By implementing industry best practices in the design and implementation of these systems, we are laying the groundwork for long term sustainability.  By prioritizing sustainability, locally-sourced components, and simplicity in design, our hope is to make the long term operations and maintenance of these water systems as easy as possible for local communities.  

The model for implementing these water systems is focused on independent community control and fiscal responsibility.  Ultimately, the responsibility for the success of the systems is in the hands of local people that rely on the systems for fresh, clean water.  When a system is well designed and community leaders are well prepared, these systems have proven to be sustainable. 

In order to ensure the success of these water projects, we have designed the systems with sustainability in the forefront of our minds.  The solar panels we use are 60-cell modules, a design standardized throughout the industry and utilized in a wide variety of applications.  Because these types of panels are used for utility-scale, commercial & industrial, and residential applications, they are readily available and becoming more common throughout the world.

We are also incorporating a pump power system that utilizes standard AC pumps.  Though the solar controller component is specialized for this application, inverters are designed to work with any three phase pump.  This allows us to use locally available  pumps.  

Solar panel mounting structures are usually specialized and expensive.  We have, instead, opted for using standard, locally-sourced galvanized angle iron and posts.  While this will lead to slightly longer installation and construction times, repairs and/or additions will be easy in the future using locally available components.  Tower design is also being done by local engineers, and the installation will be done by local labor.  Standard wiring and electrical components will be used as much as possible.

Every solar site is different, but generally, all of the engineering parameters of solar design are the same, for any system anywhere in the world. Assessing the solar resource available based on the geographic location of the site leads to proper sizing of the solar array, as well as array orientation. Central America has between five and six sun*hours per day, and because the location is close to the equator, panels will be mounted flat for maximum solar harvest.

Standard wiring sizing will be utilized along with over-current protection (fuses or breakers) on both the AC and DC sides of the system. When electrical lines are run long distances, generally over 100 feet or 33 meters, voltage drop calculations will be done. Upsizing of wires will be necessary on these long runs in order to avoid voltage drop and ensure proper functioning of electrical components. Also, major electrical components, such as the inverter, over-current protections, surge protectors, etc., will be secure but accessible for ongoing operations and maintenance.

As much as possible, we will utilize locally-source equipment, including racking materials, minor electrical components, wiring, pumps, etc. We will also utilize local labor for constructing the systems. This has many advantages: decreased installation cost and buy-in from the community through supplying labor; skills training for local communities; and skills training and an intimate understanding of the project for ongoing operations and maintenance.

A model of sustainability has been developed, tested, and refined.  The cornerstone of this model is community control and operation.  This starts with a unanimous agreement from every community member on the implementation of the water project.  Ensuring buy-in from the entire community is critical to the successful implementation of these projects.  

 

This, in turn, leads to the election of a Water Board, which oversees the construction, operation, and maintenance of the water project.  Water Board members are also responsible for accounting, billing, and payments from the individual homes.  Ultimately, the long term success of these projects lies in the hands of the communities, but much thought is put into setting them up for success. 

Potentially, one of the trickiest parts of the water project is pricing water to the end-users, the families in the community. Generally, this is done on a per-cubic-meter basis, though some communities have chosen to have a set monthly price for a set amount of water, then an additional cost for extra quantities.

Payments should not be so expensive that families cannot afford it, but they need to be sufficient to cover operational and maintenance expenses. These expenses include pump replacement, controller/inverter replacement, general maintenance, and chlorine for sanitation. Funds also pay a small wage to community members with critical roles: accounting & billing and operations & maintenance. Excess funds are potentially available for other community projects in the future, though funds for pump and inverter replacement are prioritized. This amount is figured based on warrantied life of the products.

The cost of the water should also be high enough to encourage water conservation. When water is too cheap, water is often wasted and the distribution tank is emptied prematurely. The excessive run-off from wasted water can contribute to a variety of health issues, namely mosquitos and the associated blood-borne illnesses they transmit.

A fair, but substantial, price for water usage goes a long way to avoid these issues. Priced appropriately, residents will conserve water. Education about the efficient use of water, along with the ill-effects of excess wastewater will aid in this effort. Greywater management will also be helpful to curb any ill-effects of standing water in the communities.

Security is a concern in many aspects of life for Central Americans. Our goal with these water projects is to give the communities independent control of their fresh water supply. With that in mind, before these projects are developed, it is assured that the communities hold the water rights or access rights to their respective water sources. Either title to the land on which the water sources sit or a long-term access agreement is a must for the development of the project.

The capacity of the water source is also of concern in regards to the long term security of the water source. Ideally, land around and above the water source is also secured through ownership, and proper stewardship of that land, which feeds the springs, is taken into account. Best practices for land management are adopted to optimize long term water supply quality. Oversizing the pump tank is also an option for ensuring proper water capacity to the distribution tank.

With a thick, high tree canopy, solar access can be difficult in Central America. Mounting the solar panels on a tower structure allows for good solar access as well as security from vandalism or theft. Balance of system components will be installed in a secure structure adjacent to the pump tank.

Finally, in the effort to buffer the community from utility rate increases, utility outages, and political changes, this system design provides security by adding the parallel solar power system that can run independently from the utility grid. The grid will still be available as a back-up power source, though this can be eliminated in the future if additional utility savings is desired and confidence in the solar power system is sufficient. This decision will be left to the community.

 

In order to ensure the success of these water projects, we have designed the systems with sustainability in the forefront of our minds.  The solar panels we use are 60-cell modules, a design standardized throughout the industry and utilized in a wide variety of applications.  Because these types of panels are used for utility-scale, commercial & industrial, and residential applications, they are readily available and becoming more common throughout the world.

We are also incorporating a pump power system that utilizes standard AC pumps.  Though the solar controller component is specialized for this application, inverters are designed to work with any three phase pump.  This allows us to use locally available  pumps.  

Solar panel mounting structures are usually specialized and expensive.  We have, instead, opted for using standard, locally-sourced galvanized angle iron and posts.  While this will lead to slightly longer installation and construction times, repairs and/or additions will be easy in the future using locally available components.  Tower design is also being done by local engineers, and the installation will be done by local labor.  Standard wiring and electrical components will be used as much as possible.

Every solar site is different, but generally, all of the engineering parameters of solar design are the same, for any system anywhere in the world. Assessing the solar resource available based on the geographic location of the site leads to proper sizing of the solar array, as well as array orientation. Central America has between five and six sun*hours per day, and because the location is close to the equator, panels will be mounted flat for maximum solar harvest.

Standard wiring sizing will be utilized along with over-current protection (fuses or breakers) on both the AC and DC sides of the system. When electrical lines are run long distances, generally over 100 feet or 33 meters, voltage drop calculations will be done. Upsizing of wires will be necessary on these long runs in order to avoid voltage drop and ensure proper functioning of electrical components. Also, major electrical components, such as the inverter, over-current protections, surge protectors, etc., will be secure but accessible for ongoing operations and maintenance.

As much as possible, we will utilize locally-source equipment, including racking materials, minor electrical components, wiring, pumps, etc. We will also utilize local labor for constructing the systems. This has many advantages: decreased installation cost and buy-in from the community through supplying labor; skills training for local communities; and skills training and an intimate understanding of the project for ongoing operations and maintenance.

A model of sustainability has been developed, tested, and refined.  The cornerstone of this model is community control and operation.  This starts with a unanimous agreement from every community member on the implementation of the water project.  Ensuring buy-in from the entire community is critical to the successful implementation of these projects.  

 

This, in turn, leads to the election of a Water Board, which oversees the construction, operation, and maintenance of the water project.  Water Board members are also responsible for accounting, billing, and payments from the individual homes.  Ultimately, the long term success of these projects lies in the hands of the communities, but much thought is put into setting them up for success. 

Potentially, one of the trickiest parts of the water project is pricing water to the end-users, the families in the community. Generally, this is done on a per-cubic-meter basis, though some communities have chosen to have a set monthly price for a set amount of water, then an additional cost for extra quantities.

Payments should not be so expensive that families cannot afford it, but they need to be sufficient to cover operational and maintenance expenses. These expenses include pump replacement, controller/inverter replacement, general maintenance, and chlorine for sanitation. Funds also pay a small wage to community members with critical roles: accounting & billing and operations & maintenance. Excess funds are potentially available for other community projects in the future, though funds for pump and inverter replacement are prioritized. This amount is figured based on warrantied life of the products.

The cost of the water should also be high enough to encourage water conservation. When water is too cheap, water is often wasted and the distribution tank is emptied prematurely. The excessive run-off from wasted water can contribute to a variety of health issues, namely mosquitos and the associated blood-borne illnesses they transmit.

A fair, but substantial, price for water usage goes a long way to avoid these issues. Priced appropriately, residents will conserve water. Education about the efficient use of water, along with the ill-effects of excess wastewater will aid in this effort. Greywater management will also be helpful to curb any ill-effects of standing water in the communities.

Security is a concern in many aspects of life for Central Americans. Our goal with these water projects is to give the communities independent control of their fresh water supply. With that in mind, before these projects are developed, it is assured that the communities hold the water rights or access rights to their respective water sources. Either title to the land on which the water sources sit or a long-term access agreement is a must for the development of the project.

The capacity of the water source is also of concern in regards to the long term security of the water source. Ideally, land around and above the water source is also secured through ownership, and proper stewardship of that land, which feeds the springs, is taken into account. Best practices for land management are adopted to optimize long term water supply quality. Oversizing the pump tank is also an option for ensuring proper water capacity to the distribution tank.

With a thick, high tree canopy, solar access can be difficult in Central America. Mounting the solar panels on a tower structure allows for good solar access as well as security from vandalism or theft. Balance of system components will be installed in a secure structure adjacent to the pump tank.

Finally, in the effort to buffer the community from utility rate increases, utility outages, and political changes, this system design provides security by adding the parallel solar power system that can run independently from the utility grid. The grid will still be available as a back-up power source, though this can be eliminated in the future if additional utility savings is desired and confidence in the solar power system is sufficient. This decision will be left to the community.

 

The information on this page was created by N. Ryan Zaricki, President, Whole Sun Designs

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