A Solar Solution For Rural Nicaraguans

Having recently returned home from my first visit to Nicaragua I was inspired to learn and write about some of the innovative advancements being made throughout the country. While I immediately fell in love with the beauty of all I saw, there was no avoiding the signs of poverty during the 3-hour drive from the airport in Managua to the Pacific coast. The back roads of the city showed some of the densely populated slums, but as we headed west the sparse rural homes were a reminder of the true isolation for many of these residents. And it turns out over 35% of Nicaragua’s population is living off of the grid. I saw the children walking or biking home from school on the dusty dirt roads and the young girls and mothers carrying buckets of water back to their houses from the closest well. Understanding there is already a large movement from outside organizations for community development and environmental conservation, I was curious to uncover some of the social innovations that have reached Nicaragua, and I came across the 2010 Latin American Entrepreneur of the Year, Vladimir Delagneau, who started Tecnosol.

Created in 1998, Tecnosol is a solar energy for-profit company that provides solar kits at an affordable price to residents and business owners operating off of the grid. Located in the tropics, Nicaragua sees 12 hours of average daily sunlight year round, and as a result solar power is a practical and readily available renewable energy source. The organization has grown at a rapid rate since about 2005 and by the end of 2011 Tecnosol had installed more than 40,000 solar energy units, impacting over 250,000 people in Nicaragua, and more recently El Salvador. By transitioning to solar power, residents not only see financial savings that would have otherwise been spent on kerosene, but also the health benefits of moving away from toxic fuel and energy sources in houses without sufficient ventilation.

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http://www.ashden.org/files/imagecache/large-with-crop/images/AA10_INT_TECNOSOL_B.jpg

 

Though the system is much more affordable than other solar options, as it has now taken over almost 80% of the solar energy market in Nicaragua, it is still a large investment for a population surviving on less than 2$ dollars per day. To alleviate this financial burden Tecnosol partners with lenders so that customers can purchase a solar panel system by requiring only a small down payment. Though the balance does incur interest, the amount of money saved by not having to buy alternative power and fuel sources for a year results in savings that are enough to cover the annual interest and still have money to put towards paying off the unit. To further alleviate the cost of the product, by investing in a kit there is also the opportunity for income generation after installation by providing electricity for neighbors.

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An information session on Solar Technology

 

With a yearly sunset around 5:30 each day, access to electricity allows children to do homework after getting home from school and for businesses to extend their operating hours. The electricity generated is also enough to power freezers and refrigerators so that restaurant and market owners do not have to throw unsold food out at the end of every day. Not only does Tecnosol build and install the kits, but also they are educating the population about the many positive impacts that solar energy can have in Nicaragua, to further encourage its adoption. As one of the poorest countries in the Americas, this transition towards countrywide access to electricity and with it opportunities for children, homeowners and business owners alike is an important step towards an educated and empowered population.

 

http://www.ashden.org/winners/tecnosol10

http://www.kiva.org/partners/279

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