Archive for March, 2008

Alumbre Slide Show

This poem was written by Vicente Huamán Huamán of Alumbre in honor of the inauguration of the wind poject, lead by ITDG (Soluciones Prácticas). He receited the poem during the celebration in front of the whole village, the press, NGOs, local government representatives and the Vice Minister of Energy for Peru…

Una obra de calidad
de una buena ONG
así es el trabajo señores
de la equipo de ITDG

Es lo obra de ITDG
un apoyo desinteresado
apoyando a los campesinos
un trabajo mancomunado

En el Alto Valle Llaucano
un proyecto de los mejores
en el Alumbre inauguran
Los aerogeneradores

En mi tierra de el Alumbre
Pedro Gamio esta presente
Para inaugurar este trabajo
honrado por toda mi gente

Gracias ITDG
te agradezco de corazón
porque la hora celebramos
de este sistema la inauguración

Donde nadie a llegado
ITDG si pudo llegar
Para apoyar al campesino
y un buen recuerdo dejar

Este poema les dedico
a mi inspiración y memoria
ahora escribe ITDG
otra pagina mas en la historia

Con nueva tecnología
apoyando al campesino
sigue tu rumbo de Luz
dejando huella en el camino

El que compone este poema
Huamán es su apellido
Les dedica con cariño
en calidad de Lirio Linda Florino

Ya no tengo más que decir
ya me paso a retirar
Los errores que he tenido
que me sepan disculpar

Recuerdo de Vicente Huamán Huamán de Lirio Linda Flor

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Windmills as Butterflies

We caught the 4:00am combi up to Alumbre. Franc and Walter of ITDG, and I, and as many people as could possibly physically fit in a minivan zigzagged up the bumpy roads, and just after dawn arrived in Alumbre, the community with 22 small wind turbines. Mules were just hauling the big silver jugs of fresh milk to the road side for the daily pick-up of “Leche Gloria” the big milk company. We had a breakfast of potato soup, toasted corn nuts, and hot milk, and I got to talk to a few women one on one. They are so much more chatty when not in the presence of men. These women were slated to get their wind turbines in the next few months (with the pending WISIONS funding) but were impressed with the systems of their neighbors’ recently installed systems (thanks to the Andina event and University of Cataluna/Ingeneria Sin Fronteras). They call them “mariposas” or butterflies watching their 3 wings spinning. They say they are “bonito” (pretty) because of the light the produce. Women get up to start cooking at 5am, so the light will make their daily chores just a bit easier. Later a man expressed his enthusiasm of being able to do carpentry and use a sewing machine at night. He said the wind just blows candles right out.

Their one concern was that they move so fast that they are afraid they are going to break. The turbines are designed so that when the wind is too furious, the tail blade acts as a rudder, and turns the windmill out of the direction of the wind. But, when the wind whips from every direction, a few blades have broken. The systems are being replaced this week, and ITDG, the small-business that manufactures the systems, and designers from the Universidad de Cataluña are working on improving the design and precision manufacturing. The community of Alumbre are the pioneers in this new technology and I have learned that small wind is more complicated than small solar, since every nook of this varied dramatic geology has different wind characteristics, which means that each system, at each household, will behave a little differently.

As the time approached for the big community meeting, someone blew a lifeguard’s whistle across the valley, and slowly people made their way to the school building. About 30 adults, on small wooden schoolroom chairs, gathered in the classroom with dirt floors and broken windows. The leader of the Ronda Campesina (the real authority in town) called the meeting. Everyone rose, took off their straw hats and baseball caps, put their hands over their hearts, and sang the Peruvian anthem. Walter, the community organizer of Soluciones Practicas, first discussed the upcoming Inauguration Ceremony of the project. Next week the Vice Minister of Energy and Mines is coming from Lima, along with local officials of every rank, to formally inaugurate the wind project, the first of its kind. Everyone signed up for roles, from giving the welcoming address to cooking to putting up decorations.

Then, came the moment of announcing who will be the technical administrator of the wind project, and run it as a small business. After reviewing the criteria (good community member, participated in all aspects of the project, did well on the training exams, etc) Walter announced the names of the new technical administrators. They mayor gave words of encouragement to those that were not chosen, saying that they can still serve their neighbors with their knowledge of the systems and that everyone did a good job. Then, the winner gave a Grammy-award-style address; “This is such a surprise, I never knew I could do this, I want to thank those that have made it possible…” It was impressive to see how this service to the community is a real honor.

Everyone (although less input from the women) discussed the financial issues and regulations. At first, they talked about a 35 sole financial incentive for the technical administrator for 4-5 days of work (collecting bills, bringing the money to the bank, reviewing each system, greasing the systems, etc). But a few people spoke up and felt that they wanted to save more money into the maintenance account for eventual repairs. The newly elected technical administrator then voluntarily agreed to lower his financial support to 20 soles/month (about $7) and requested that he be given a meal when he comes to review the wind systems. The legal ownership will be in the name of the municipality who will also have an oversight role. Ideally, this is a way to combine the entrepreneurship of small businesses with the accountability of public oversight.

As we are embarking on a much larger program of a Provincial Plan for Rural Electrification in San Pablo, with decentralized solar, micro-hydro, and wind projects in over 40 villages, we are working out the management models which I believe are the key determinant of long-term sustainability. The project in Alumbre is a pilot both in the technical implementation of the project, but in seeing how a community can organize to sustain it.

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Boston Event 03.27.08

Sustainable Development

Our Role in Our World: An Evening in Three Acts

Thursday, 27 March, 2008
6:00PM – 8:00PM
Nexus Green Building Resource Center38 Chauncy Street, Seventh Floor, Boston, MA

Act 1: Case Study about Sustainable Development
Green Empowerment partners with rural communities in the developing world to implement renewable energy and water systems in order to alleviate poverty and improve the environment.

Green Empowerment currently works in seven countries in Latin America and Asia: the Philippines, Thailand, Burma, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Peru, and Malaysia. An important goal and outgrowth of the mission of Green Empowerment is to conduct outreach, education, and training in the United States to promote understanding of the global indivisibility of environmentalism, social justice, and sustainability. Fundamental social and environmental problems cannot be solved without a global perspective.

Act 2: Short Film about Social Justice, Renewable Energy, and Juggling in Nicaragua
Director: Jason Blalock

In the 1980s, a bloody civil war between the socialist-influenced Sandinistas and the U.S.-backed Contras ravaged Nicaragua. Thousands of idealistic Americans descended upon the Central American nation, determined to lend their skills and labor to the revolutionary Sandinista movement. Blalock tells the story of a small group of controversial U.S. engineers—including Portlander Ben Linder—who went further than anyone expected, and paid the ultimate price.

Act 3: Group Discussion As You Like It
Bring your thoughts, your experience, and share them
Some possible questions:
How can we ensure that our good intentions affect positive change?
What is our role and responsibility as global citizens and residents of the developed world?
Which resources are most essential to providing basic needs for communities?
What can you do to help ensure a more sustainable and just world?

For more information, please contact steph routh:

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The Winds of Change


There is finally alumbrado (light) en Alumbre, the village where ITDG installed 20 small wind turbines. The 500watt turbine at the top of the wind-blown hill was spinning rapidly, charging the batteries that supply light to the school’s classrooms, DVD player, and new computer. The municipality had donated a few computers. We unpacked them, turned on Linux, and went into the other room for a meeting. By the time we came back, the 1 school teacher had typed up a letter to all surrounding villages to come together on a certain date to help fix the road. I was glad to see that he was comfortable with computers, and could be the village teacher.

Today wasn’t windy enough to turn the 100watt turbines at each house, but apparently when the batteries are fully charged, people can still use the light for 15 days. Everyone we met seemed genuinely happy with their new lights. They said that they no longer needed to buy candles, that kids can study at night without noxious kerosene fumes, and that the light is brighter. We met one man who had hand-made a radio transmitter, and set up a radio station out of his own little adobe house. He plays old tapes of Peruvian music over a microphone and makes announcements. In fact, while we were there, he made a radio announcement that the village authorities were supposed to go up at the school for an important meeting. Turn the switch of electricity, and who knows what ingenuity you’ll unleash. Now that people have electricity, they want TV signals. While sitting in a smoky kitchen hut around a pot of hot boiled potatoes, toasted corn and grain soup, we had an interesting conversation with a village leader about how as one need is fulfilled, others are created. Maybe that is human nature. There are no simple answeres in the process of social/cultural/economic change.

The community organizer from ITDG, Walter, and I met with the village’s “Deputy Governor” and the “President of the Ronda Campesina”, which is a group of men who take turns walking the community at night, and take the law into their own hands. The Rondas emerged during the Shining Path era as a way for communities to keep an eye out for any intruders in areas far from any official police system, and now considered a respected authority in most rural villages. We were meeting with these authorities to finalize the decision on who would be the operator/administrator of the village’s new wind power electrical systems. Anyone interested (about 8 guys) came to ITDG’s renewable energy training center (CEDECAP) to learn all about the technical, administrative, and financial aspects of managing the systems. At the end, they took a written quiz on accounting and business operation. Walter and the village authorities filled out a table for each candidate based on the criteria of how much they participated in the installations, how well they did at the training, their general behavior in the community and participation in communal work. They reached a consensus on the person who will be the operator, and responsible for collecting a tariff of 10soles (about $3) from each household each month for a battery replacement fund. The micro-enterprise will be legally registered, and the money kept in a bank account requiring 3 signatures. The entire community will meet every 3 months to review the books. The operator will even have an official uniform and helmet which ITDG has explained helps build the legitimacy and the level of responsibility of the small business.

The seed funding was provided by Green Empowerment donors who attended the Caramarquena-owned Andina restaurant in Portland and Ingenieria Sin Fronteras/Universidad Politecnica Cataluña. I had helped ITDG to write a grant to WISIONS for the project, which will allow ITDG to install 13 wind turbines for the remaining homes in the next few months. So, it was neat to see project concept transformed into real action. People who thought (and were right) that the electrical grid would never arrive, now have their own sources of power, blowing in the wind.

Edwin now has light

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Sonia Piaguaje

Sonia Piaguaje, whose native language is Secoya, has been managing the solar systems in her village of San Pablo for almost 3 years. She collects the monthly financial contributions from 67 households, deposits them in the bank, and teaches all the users how to manage the use of the battery. Her subtle yet powerful presence was respected by all.

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Last week Michel taught the engineers from 16 of Ecuador’s big energy companies how to design little solar pumps for remote villages in the Amazon. Although most of them got excited about calculating the little solar systems, and are especially interested now that our partner, FEDETA, convinced the government to pay for any solar systems the companies proposed, there was also a minor culture clash…

Not between us gringos and the ecuadorians, but between two mindsets: that of extending the major power grid and that of building renewable energy systems for cultural autonomy. During a break, one energy company engineer asked, “Instead of building these tiny systems out in the jungle, why not just move people to population centers where we can just extend the grid?”

The indigenous Shuar people of the Amazon have traditionally lived quite dispursed with kilometers seperating an individual’s house from the village center. Aparently, it is usually the men who live out in the distant houses while the rest of the family lives in a village center. By proposing to make everyone live in a village cluster, close to the electricity grid, the engineer was proposing to uproot deep cultural patterns.

In contrast, FEDETA’s philosophy is to help people maintain their rural lifestyles, countering the trend of mass urbanization that has swept the developing world. By providing small-scale solar systems to homes scattered in the forest people can have some of the benefits of basic services, without moving to populated areas.

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Michel teaching solar techs

Engineers went head to head with village solar techs, or as they called themselves UOPGES, (Units of Operation and Management of Sustainable Energy). After a long day of technical class work and discussions about how to maintain of the nearly 600 solar home systems installed in the jungle, it was time to play soccer. It was 10pm and just getting going. Stadium lights illuminated the concrete platform with makeshift goal posts on each end, and a crowd gathered around for the big showdown. The most amazing thing about the match wasn’t the world-cup quality footwork or header goals, but simply who was playing. In such a stratified society, it was a rare moment to have the leaders from Ecuador’s National Electricity Council (CONELEC-Consejo Nacional de Electricidad) and overeducated professional engineers from the nations’ big electrical companies playing against indigenous villagers who live hours by foot or canoe to the closest road.

What brought them all to Coca, this small city in the Amazon, was the Workshop on Technical and Financial Strengthening for Operators of the UOPGES co-hosted by our local NGO partner, FEDETA (Ecuadorian Foundation for Appropriate Technology) and Green Empowerment. Each morning Michel taught the design, installation and upkeep of solar power systems with class work, and hands-on work assembling solar PV systems. This was a refresher course for the 40 village technicians who have been trained by FEDETA to install and maintain the solar PV systems in their community. They are also responsible for collecting a small fee from each household to build a fund to replace the batteries. The big electrical companies hold the fund, and are then responsible for replacing the batteries and any other parts as needed.

While the systems are managed by the community itself, the PV systems are officially property of the state-owned electrical companies (and paid for by a government fund) and thus they are responsible for making sure that the systems keep providing electrical service in the long term. It is not uncommon to hear of dead solar systems scattered around the developing world because they didn’t have any system of maintaining them, replacing batteries, and fixing them when parts wear out. So, in Ecuador, they are trying to build system maintenance into the whole program. At least that was the mission of this workshop.

Each afternoon, we facilitated discussion groups of UOPGES and electrical company engineers to dialog around what are the roles. Each afternoon was dedicated to hammering out the administrative, social and financial issues. The first day we formed “Mesas de dialogo” (tables of dialog) with a mix of people from the UOPGES and electrical companies. Someone from GE or FEDETA facilitated each group dialog around the roles of the UOPGES and the roles of the companies, and the corresponding problems that are inhibiting them from fulfilling their roles. Each group presented their roles and difficulties in front of the whole group. The process of self-analysis reminded me of Paulo Frerre’s popular education.

The next day, the UOPGES gathered at separate tables from the electrical companies and CONELEC to propose systemic solutions to each of the problems that had been presented the day before. During the presentations of results, the UOPGES, who come from very remote, poor villages spoke with incredible confidence about their demands on the electrical companies. The electrical companies, CONELEC and the Fondo de Solidaridad committed to meeting in the next 2 months to address the problems presented and to begin the process of forming renewable energy departments within the electrical companies responsible for attending to the needs of the UOPGES (maintaining a stock of replacement parts, reviewing accounts, replacing batteries when needed, etc.) The whole process was incredibly participative and encouraged a real and healthy self-assessment of the program and suggestions on what each player needs to do to make it more sustainable. It seemed to be an experiment in real democracy.

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