Household solar energy initiatives, Masaya, Nicaragua

´Proyecto Sol´ or Project Sun was established through the Nicaraguan organisation ADIC (Integral Community Development Association), based in the city and department of Masaya. This is “a forgotten region between the country’s two largest lakes”[1] dominated by large rice farms and big landowners. Multiple small communities inhabit the margins of the large rice farms. Power lines can be seen running over these rural communities but apart from a few houses, the electricity is devoted to pumping water through the farms’ thirsty irrigation systems and thus the workers live in darkness. Unless the privatised electricity grid is extended (unlikely – see the case study on privatisation in Nicaragua earlier in this chapter), remote neighbourhoods will never have the privilege of this requisite and the energy crisis will persist.

Being a green and reliable source of electrical power, solar panels are an obvious solution to this problem. Previously only wealthy families had the capital to purchase the equipment, but with the nature of ADIC´s repayment schemes, poorer families can repay the $700/£500 cost over a period of 5-7 years, based on what they can afford each month.[2] The cost is no more than that which would be paid for electricity from the national provider, and the repayments are used in a revolving fund for further reinvestment.

To July 2010, 135 solar panels have been installed in 15 different communities, and the demand is increasing. Once 200 kits have been installed, the repayment account will be healthy enough to provide 25-30 new panels per year.[3] The micro-loan fund is one of this project’s key success factors and it has proven to be a potential application for vulnerable communities throughout Central America.[4]

One such success story is that of Señora Amada Concepción – the recipient of the one hundredth solar panel kit to be installed. She and her community live without electricity in an area of low lying marshland in the district of Tisma. Equipment was brought in by horse and cart as the connecting road is impassable.[5] The family now have electricity for the first time.

Although surveys done by Proyecto Sol reveal that initially communities are sceptical about solar energy, house owners are rapidly converted to the scheme once the preliminary demonstration equipment is seen to work even on cloudy days during the rainy season.[6] The output of each panel is enough for 3 or 4 light bulbs, as well as a socket for use by a TV or radio for a few hours a day.

The project coordinator is Englishman John Perry, now a permanent resident in Masaya. Through his contacts with British based Housing Associations, he and ADIC have ascertained the capital to initiate Proyecto Sol and other schemes which aim to improve infrastructure for low income families in Masaya.


[1] ADIC (March 2010) ‘We own the land, water, electricity…’, Agrovivenda Bulletin , No.21, ADIC.
[2] John Perry, project coordinator, interviewed especially for this book, 20 July 2010, Masaya, Nicaragua.
[3] John Perry (Winter 2008) ‘Sun lights off-grid communities in Nicaragua’, Central America Report, www.central-america-report.org.uk
[4] Matthew Barker (23 January 2009) ‘Out of the darkness’, Inside Housing, p.36-37.
[5] ADIC (September 2008) ‘First 100 Solar systems installed’, Agrovivenda Bulletin, No.18, ADIC.
[6] Op.cit, Perry (2008).

Small-scale solar power in Nicaragua

On 22 February 2017, NicaNet (the Nicaragua Network) reported the following in its weekly blog (www.nicanet.org/).

A report published by the French news agency AFP states that Nicaragua is carrying out a renewable energy revolution that is bringing electricity and prosperity to isolated rural communities in the country. The AFP report noted that 1,500 solar panels have been installed in homes and schools on the Nicaraguan Caribbean coast, as well as 250 solar powered water pumping systems benefiting farmers in the Pacific dry corridor.

Expanding Rural Energy Access in Nicaragua through Solar Panel Programmes (Photo credit: Green Empowerment)

 

Installing a solar panel on the roof of Los Pozitos school building. (Photo credit: Martin Mowforth)

Listing of solar energy initiatives in Central America

A listing such as this is also given in ‘The Violence of Development’ book, but this website listing is marginally fuller in detail, although still only includes just a few of the many projects around the region.

In Honduras, the Nordic Development Fund has financially supported the installation of 253 solar panel energy systems in the same number of communities, mostly isolated from the national grid.[i]

In Guatemala in 2004, the NGO Fundación Solar (with financial collaboration from the UNDP, USAID and the GEF, amongst others) installed 180 photovoltaic (solar) systems in six rural communities in the department of Quiché.[ii]

Also in Guatemala, in 2010, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) began support for the 7-year development of a power grid to reach the country’s poorest regions where electricity is absent or limited, placing special emphasis on solar power and small-scale hydroelectricity plants.[iii]

In 2009, a group of 16 student volunteers from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) installed a small photovoltaic system on the densely populated island of Nusatupu in Kuna Yala (Kuna territory).[iv]

Also in Panama in 2006 and 2007, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funded Engineers for a Sustainable World at Northwestern University (ESW-NU) in collaboration with Panamanian NGO CEASPA (the Panamanian Centre for Social Studies and Action) to provide and install a series of six solar panels in the village of Santo Domingo, Colón province, to provide energy for electric fencing around the community’s livestock (as a deterrent to jaguar predation) and for the recharging of car batteries from which run all other electrical appliances in the village.[v]

Since 2007 the European Union has promoted a Euro Solar programme in Latin America’s eight poorest countries. In Nicaragua this is providing community photovoltaic electricity installations in around forty villages in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN). Each installed facility includes telecommunications and internet, a printer, projector, lighting for community installations, a refrigerator for medicines and vaccines, a battery charger and water purifier.[vi]

leonardo-dicaprio-2-150x150In Belize, having bought the island of Blackadore Caye in 2005 (for US$1.75 million in partnership with Jeff Gram, owner of the exclusive Cayo Espanto Resort), Leonardo DiCaprio has drawn up plans to turn it into a luxury resort based on sustainable design, using solar power, for instance, for the landing strip.[vii]

Throughout Central America, there are many small-scale solar powered oven schemes. The Central America Solar Energy Project for instance promotes solar cookers in Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua[viii], and numerous other NGOs support similar schemes to reduce firewood use and improve womens’ health.

One of the region’s largest solar power schemes (but still small by global standards) was put forward by the government of Japan (through JICA) which in 2011 offered the government of Belize a $20 million photovoltaic solar panel system built on just over 2 acres of the University of Belize’s land in the capital city Belmopan. The university will manage and maintain the project after construction is complete and will sell the electricity to Belize Electricity Limited, the country’s primary distributor of electricity.CIMG0577-2-300x199

In Costa Rica, the CNFL (National Power and Light Company) is financing a $1 million programme, installing two solar panels on each of 500 homes. The individual and household participants have no costs to cover, and actually receive a monthly fee for renting their roof, but the equipment belongs to CNFL. If the house uses more than 400 watts, the extra watts required come from conventional electricity sources. If the demand is lower than 400 watts, the excess goes to the national electricity distribution system.

The above listing represents only a small fraction of the small-scale solar power projects found within Central America, and it would be easy to conclude that such power provision must be the way forward for Central America. But even multiplying the few projects listed above by several hundreds would still only scratch the surface of the need for electricity around the region. It may indeed be the way forward for many remote and small rural villages, and there are those who would argue that it is the way forward for many urban and institutional uses too.


[i] Jorge F. Travieso (December 2010) ‘Evaluation of Solar Panel Energy Support: Honduras Case Study 2010’, Nordic Development Fund, Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
[ii] USAID (2006) ‘Solar Power Meets Rural Energy Needs in Guatemala’, USAID, Washington DC.
[iii] Renewable Energy Focus (15 June 2010) ‘Guatemala develops hydropower and solar energy grid’, Renewable Energy Focus, www.renewableenergyfocus.com/10237/guatemala-develops-hydropower-and-solar-energy-grid/ (accessed 22.07.11)
[iv] Global Patriot (29 March 2010) ‘UCSD Brigades Bring Sustainable Energy to Panama’, http://files.subtledream.com/GB/GEB%20UCSD%20Winter%202009%20Report.pdf (accessed 22.07.11).
[v] US Environmental Protection Agency (2007) ‘Final Report: Solar Photovoltaic System Design for a Remote Community in Panama’, http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncer_abstracts/index.cfm/fuseaction/display.abstractDetail/abstract/8104/report/F (accessed 22.07.11).
[vi] Nicaragua News (7 September 2010) ‘Forty-two RAAN communities to get solar power facilities’, Nicaragua Network.
[vii] Luxury Living Magazine (25 October 2009) ‘DiCaprio joins with Four Seasons at Blackadore Caye’, Luxury Living Magazine, www.luxurylivingint.com/blog/best-of-travel/dicaprio-joins-with-four-seasons-at-blackadore-caye/ (accessed 22.07.11).
[viii] Central America Solar Energy Project (CASEP) (Spring 2007) ‘The Solar Cooker’, Newsletter of the CASEP, http://www.solaroven.org/newsletter/casep%20newsletter%20(7).pdf (accessed 22.07.11).