Solar Energy & Haifa Wehbe
I inquired then, and was told that solar energy for water heating was required by law and that it was a part of the building code.
I had spent 11 days during that first visit, mostly in Larnaca, Limassol and Aya Napa. I also had a chance to spend a nice afternoon in Nicosia. To get there from Larnaca, I followed a picturesque mountain road to the inlands. Everywhere I went, the panels haunted me. These Cypriots knew something long before many others around the sunny Mediterranean knew, the real value of the sun.
Twenty years later, here in Tartous, barely 90 km to the east of Cyprus, the satellite dishes on the roofs of our buildings outnumber the solar heating systems by a ratio of 100 to 1. I have been following up on this subject for quiet some time. All over Syria, the least used source for heating water is the sun. In rural areas, people prefer to burn wood or if they feel like upgrading they would buy a diesel fuel burning contraption to heat their water. In cities and major urban areas heating water is accomplished through:
44% Burning of diesel fuel (direct)
10% Diesel fuel Burner/boiler central heating systems
4% Propane gas
2% Solar energy
Now with this kind of numbers, you would confuse Syria with Siberia or other oil rich regions of the northern latitudes where there’s plenty of fossil fuel and too little sunshine. The truth of the matter is that Syria is not an oil producing country and that according to most recent statistics enjoys 306 sunny days per year. That’s right; the sun alone can heat water in our houses for all but 59 days per year that is 10 months out of 12.
There are different systems available on the market varying in sophistication, efficiency and cost. I will describe the typical, locally manufactured, simple and cheap system. It also happens that this is the system most suitable for the needs of the average family. A typical system would require a couple of hours of sunshine to provide 300 liter of water at (+55°C = 130°F). A simple system means zero maintenance and no operating know-how required. Such a system would sell for about SP30,000 or roughly US$600. For a family of five, the recommended capacity of 300 liter is ideal.
The basic solar heating system consists primarily of a series of panels and an insulated 300 liter water tank. Supply water is fed to the higher tank from one side which in turn is connected to the lowest part of the inclined heating panels. There are usually 3 connected panels of about 2 sq.m. each. The individual panel is a rectangular box measuring roughly 1 by 2 m with a height of 15 cm (6”). The 3 panels are laid side by side at an angle of 45° facing south (depending on the location’s latitude) so that they absorb as much of the sun’s rays for the longest possible time. The bottom of the box is a thin metallic reservoir painted in black. The box is covered by glass and firmly sealed. When the rays of the sun hit the black surface the water inside is heated rapidly. The glass permits the sunrays and traps the heat inside exactly like a greenhouse does. The enclosed volume of air can get very hot indeed and further accelerates the heating of the water within the black thin reservoir. The panels are connected from the top back to the 300 liter insulated tank. Following the basic laws of nature, as water is heated it becomes lighter and travels to the higher tank. The colder water in the tank, being heavier, moves by its own accord to the lower part of the system or to the panels. This flow of water will continue until the temperature is one and the same at the panels and in the tank, or scientifically speaking until the system reaches equilibrium. The discharge outlet, the one that goes into the house itself (baths and kitchen) is usually located on the other side of the tank, opposite to the supply feed and the connection to the panels. A water mixer in the bathroom receives and mixes this hot water with the cold water supply as per preference and the user enjoys absolutely free hot water. As long as the sun shines it will continue to heat the water. After sunset, the hot water inside the insulated tank can and will last, depending on use until the next morning. So not only are we getting free hot water, we are also getting it around the clock. The system also includes an electrical heating element inside the insulated tank for those 59 cloudy days where the sun does not shine enough to heat the water.
A system such as the one described above has an average life expectancy of 15 to 20 years depending on the quality of manufacturing before corrosion and the elements take the better hold of it. It would be wise then to either replace it all or carry out a total refurbishing. So the average cost for heating the water needed by a family of five is roughly US$40 per year. The electrical alternative costs at least 500% more, the diesel burner/boiler 350%.
I have not even mentioned the positive impact on the environment if everybody switched to solar energy. What bothers me most, however, is that acquiring a building permit in any Syrian locale requires approved plans from the Order of Syrian Engineers. The required drawings include architectural, civil, mechanical and electrical scaled drawings. The Order of Engineer requests the mechanical drawing to be a schematic of a heating system: burner/boiler/radiators known locally as Chauffage. Can you imagine that! In a country where we have more sunshine than even government bullshit, there is no legislation, no mandate, no law, no code addressing the need to utilize cheap solar energy.
Cyprus didn’t only open my eyes to its own beauty but made me realize “even more” the stupidity and the awkwardness of our approach to the most simple of issues. We have the kind of government which can enforce almost anything. I mean at one time, long gone by now, we were forced to buy car mats when we purchased a Barada refrigerator from the Mouassaseh (The Government retail Outlet Store). Would it be that difficult really to make it mandatory to install solar heating systems on the roofs of buildings? It will go something like this: if you want to buy a dish for satellite TV viewing you’d have to also buy a solar water heating system. Only then can we enjoy the likes of Haifa, Dana and Dominique and take a hot shower. Oops, I guess what’s needed afterward is a cold shower. That explains why we don’t make enough use of the abundant solar energy over here and around.