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A first-hand look at solar training in Costa Rica

Posted by: april
July 6, 2010

Solar panel installation trainingBy Carrie Schaffner
Solar Energy International Work-Trader - Summer 2010 

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica to take part in a Solar Energy International workshop, "Renewable Energy for the Developing World." I spent 10 days in the Talamanca Mountains with an incredible group of people eager to learn more about the potential for renewable energy.

The workshop was held at Durika, a self-sufficient, sustainable community created by a group of mindful Costa Ricans and a few foreigners. We started each day with yogurt from the resident goats and fruit from nearby trees. While across the valley the sun reflects off the parched clear-cut mountains, 20 years of concentrated reforestation efforts surrounded us with lush rainforest.

For me, the most incredible reward of these efforts was shown to us on a morning hike down to a stream that is the source of the community’s electricity. When the land was acquired in 1991, this stream didn’t even exist, but with the return of the forest the stream has returned as well, providing a reliable renewable source of energy that produces more than enough electricity for the community and their guests.
Costa Rica clear cut

I learned quite a lot during my short time at Durika, both in and out of the classroom. Among others, here are some of lessons I took with me:

  • Think about what you need. After installing a solar hot water system in another Costa Rican community, the installers asked the community members how they were enjoying the system. “Oh it’s great,” one man said, “But we usually wait until late in the day to shower when the water cools off.” Maybe a hot water system for the shower was more than what the community needed.
  • Sometimes a solar cooker is more than a way to make dinner. Sometimes it’s a way to give a woman a little more power in her own life. Sometimes it’s the first thing a woman has ever built with her own hands. Sometimes building that solar cooker with a group of women gives her a support network. Or perhaps that could even give her confidence to stand up to an abusive husband.
  • A single light bulb is fairly insignificant for most of us in the U.S., but for a 12-year-old girl and her siblings in Costa Rica it means the ability to complete her homework after sundown. And that’s anything but insignificant.

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