PIONEER OF A NEW SOLAR ERA
Jordi Canut Martin
PIONEER OF A
NEW SOLAR ERA
Kurt Haefeli is a well-respected authority within the solar energy trade. He was born in Switzerland fifty years ago and can boast about having thirty years' experience behind him, which guarantee him being one of the top experts in this sector in Spain. He loves his work, particularly because it is part of a life philosophy that he has been practicing for years. He also carries it in his blood, since his mother has always been an activist for respect to nature and the sustainable development of our planet. In fact, it was his conviction rather than the desire to make money that motivated his decision to dedicate himself to making, selling and installing solar energy systems.
Chatting with Kurt, it is surprising to hear that Spain, one of the European areas with the most hours of sun exposure, is still well behind the countries that produce the highest amounts of solar energy. In the 70s, with the first oil crisis, a number of pilot experiments were carried out with alternative energies, but the technology was not ready and the materials were not of sufficient quality. It was not until the turn of the millennium that society and the Government realised that things had to change in our obviously unsustainable way of living and consuming. Ecology was suddenly in fashion, 'it was the beginning of a new industrial revolution'. Austria, Switzerland and Germany continued investigating after the 1973 crisis and invested seriously in improving the technology to obtain solar energy. Today, these countries are without a doubt the most advanced and prepared within this sector.
Due to its proximity to Denia, where he has been living for the past 20 years, Kurt has always had his eyes set on Ibiza. There are good reasons for it being called the white isle or the island of light. It seems that here, more and more people are interested in benefitting from the sun's energy as an alternative to current energies which are 'draining our pockets more and more'. He is clear about it. Together with other renewable energies, the Sun is undoubtedly the energy of the future. 'In 20 years our way of life will change drastically, especially regarding how we use resources to generate energy. Cars as we know them will cease to exist and we will go back to traditions of our ancestors such as the use of biomass'. However, in spite of being necessary now, use of solar energy systems is far from being extensive. The main hurdle is none other than the cost of materials and their installation. Contrary to what some may think, 'solar energy is not cheap. For example, to install a photovoltaic system, however small it is, you need at least 3,000 euro, while buying a system that supplies all the energy needs of a comfortable lifestyle (heating, air conditioning, low energy consumption appliances), and even generates surplus electricity, you will spend between 70.000 and 100.000 euro. The cost-effectiveness and efficiency of the system will depend on how long it lasts, and this is the only way to reduce energetic costs considerably.’
Solar light using fibre optic cables
Taking solar energy seriously also implies being coherent in other ways. This means that installing a good system is not enough. Whoever intends to use such a system at home needs to also be a responsible consumer. You need to be prepared to change halogen lighting for low-consumption bulbs, for example, and always be aware of the energy that being used (or wasted) so that the financial effort is actually worth it. Kurt's aim is to prove to whoever wants to listen that a family in a well-equipped house can make up for their investment in 10 years and even generate enough energy to actually sell a part of it to the electricity supplier and in this way save even more.
It can seem quite futuristic or even a utopia, but a lifetime dedicated to changing the wasteful habits of our western throw-away society in favour of the planet makes Kurt be quite adamant: 'it is the only solution'. •
Text: Jordi Canut Martin