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Nicaraguan communities embrace solar and wind

Posted by: laurie
July 14, 2010

By Laurie Guevara-Stone, Solar Energy International's International Program Director

In the mountains of northern Nicaragua lies a small community that has brought new meaning to the words “solar power.” They not only power much of the community with solar electricity, and cook many of their meals in solar ovens, but have become greatly empowered through the renewable energy projects they have undertaken.

Sabana Grande is a small community of about 200 families in the province of Totogalpa. It lies near the Honduran border, where much of the Contra war happened in the 1980s. In 1999 the NGO Grupo Fenix received a grant to help integrate landmine victims back into the community. They started teaching land mine victims in Sabana Grande how to build solar electric (PV) modules, and install and maintain PV systems. Using rejected cells from some of the big manufacturing companies, these rural community members solder them together and make panels that produce up to 60 watts of power. Grupo Fenix also helped start the Mujeres Solares of Totogalpa (Solar Women of Totogalpa) group, which constructs, uses, and sells solar cookers. The Mujeres Solares became so well organized that they built their own solar center out of adobe bricks they made themselves, started a nano-loan program, have an alternative currency based on the volunteer hours they work, and are now selling solar dried coffee and fruit. I have never met a more warm and dedicated group of women and men, then the solar folks of Sabana Grande. Each year SEI leads a trip to Sabana Grande, to learn from these amazing folks how to assemble solar panels, build solar cookers, install solar electric systems, and see first-hand how renewable energy can transform people’s lives.

This year we are also leading a consecutive trip to the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, in partnership with the incredible organization blueEnergy Group. blueEnergy manufactures their own wind turbines locally to create jobs and to help power rural communities on the Atlantic coast. The wind turbines, occasionally coupled with solar panels, act as community battery charging stations that power schools, community centers, and health clinics and charge private home batteries that are brought to the center. The fees collected from private battery charging are invested into a community energy fund to cover operation and maintenance costs.

The rural communities that blueEnergy works in are mostly only accessible by boat. When I traveled there last fall I had never had such a wild boat ride in my life! That exhilarating boat ride I would definitely do again in order to meet with the folks at these remarkable rural communities up and down the coast. Fortunately people who travel to Nicaragua with Solar Energy International will have that chance in December, when we take groups both to Totogalpa with Grupo Fenix, and to the Atlantic Coast with blueEnergy.

For more information on both of these December workshops click here.

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