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Solar Energy; a beaming opportunity for tropical climates

There are a myriad of ways we can be active players in creating a more sustainable world, in our present one threatened by climate issues. By taking actions at all scales of the economy we can impact the outcome for generations to come. Whether you are a homeowner or builder, business owner, head of a corporation or even part of a global conglomerate, equipping your building with a renewable energy source, such as solar energy, is a good way to reduce the overall consumption of your building, while contributing to a more sustainable planet.

If you are fortunate enough to live, work or operate in the tropics, it's a good thing to know that the sun is on your side.

What is the potential of solar energy in a tropical climate?

The sun is the major and most powerful natural source of heat and light, therefore, solar energy is an efficient source of clean energy to use in buildings. It uses sun radiation to create electricity and hot water, and is mobilized using panels and mirrors.

Countries with tropical climates have a high solar power potential thanks to their great exposure to sun radiation. Implementing solar energy in buildings has several benefits that make this source of energy one of the most promising.

The sun is a natural energy source available planet-wide and thus renewable, which means that solar energy can contribute to the global warming slow-down. Moreover, solar energy does not produce greenhouse gasses and does not pollute land or water in its utilization, which makes it a clean source of energy. In addition to protecting the environment, solar energy has its economic benefits. The typical solar panel has a payback period of 7 years, which means anything after that is free energy. For example, if the lifetime of your solar water heater is 15 years that would mean you will pay back the amount in 7 years, so you would have free electricity for the next 8 years, which is more than half of its lifetime.

In the case that more solar energy is generated than is used for the building operations, the excess energy can be sold back to power supply companies who then feed it into the main energy grid. This way allows the energy generated to bring in an income and this further offsets the financial costs of using energy off the grid. It also increases the supply of clean energy available, thus having a positive impact on the environment.

While the upfront cost of setting up solar energy is often the greatest barrier to change, there are innovative financial models for those who are shy of putting the upfront cost. As a matter of fact, there are some ESCO companies, which pay for the full installation and provide you with the clean energy generated on the property against a fee that is less than the actual savings.

According to Forbes Magazine, "100 square meters of solar panels help keep a 100 watt light bulb running for an entire year with 8 days, 8 hours and 14 seconds of energy needed".

In Thailand, Ikea has placed around 4,000 solar panels on Bangkok’s Megabangna shopping mall rooftop. “This installation has provided power to more than 200 homes in Thailand, while reducing about 716,000 kg of carbon dioxide emissions each year”, according to Eco-Business.

Water heating and energy savings

Solar panels are usually fixed on roofs, where it is more suitable to harvest sun radiation. A building’s roof is also the ideal location for solar panels, as it is unused space. Solar energy is not only a great source of electricity but is commonly used for water heating. Solar water heating systems composed of a water tank and a solar thermal pa

nel, heat the water using thermal energy from the sun. This water goes to the water heater and the heat and diffuses within the water that has been stored in the tank. Systems that utilize mirrors and water tubes can also accommodate direct water heating.

The iconic Shangri-La Hotel, has installed solar panels across a 938 m2 space on the rooftop to power a solar water heating system. According to the Vice-president and General Manager of the Hotel, “the hotel reduces hot water energy consumption as well as reducing expenditures on liquefied petroleum gas by up to 30%, which equals savings of 78 000 USD each year.”

Additional incentives for Solar Energy

In many tropical countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Chile and Morocco local governments have implemented policies to help develop the use of solar energy, endorsing its environmental and financial benefits.

Finally, according to the USGBC, buildings can earn up to 5 LEED points in the ‘Energy and Atmoshpere’ category for ‘Renewable energy’. These credits are intended to reduce the environmental and economic harms associated with fossil fuel energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by increasing the supply of renewable energy proje

cts and fostering a just transition to a green economy.”.

To learn more about the LEED credits available for renewable energy visit for more information.

Overall, the potential for solar energy is ripe in many tropical countries and with the current advances in technology, the reduction of investment costs and the increased availability of options, we are one step closer to a brighter and more sustainable future.


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