Archive for the ‘Ecuador’ Category

The actions of Walt Ratterman speak more clearly about his character than anything I could write. He has personally brought light to thousands of people around the world.  For example, he was the driving force behind bringing solar power to 37 clinics in Burma, serving over  170,000 internally displaced people a year. We had the honor of knowing and learning from Walt, an exemplary humanitarian dedicated to improving life around the world with renewable energy. We traveled and worked together in Thailand, Laos, Philippines, Peru and Nicaragua, while he was Program Director of Green Empowerment from 2003-2006. He worked side by side installing solar panels with Shuar natives in the jungles of Ecuador, traversed the rapids of rivers in Borneo to help on a micro-hydro project, and taught renewable energy in the highlands of Peru. He could easily make friends with people around the world, despite the language barriers, because anyone could relate to his sense of humor and down-to-earth friendliness. In 2006 he founded SunEnergy Power International , carried on his long-time work with Knightsbridge International, and continued to inspire everyone with his hard work, unwavering sense of justice and belief that everyone deserves to be treated as equals. In January, 2010, his dedication to humanity brought him to Haiti, where he was working on the installation of solar power for clinics. He was there when the earthquake hit. Friends and family searched for him in the ruins and sent their prayers.  Tragically, he did not survive, but his legacy lives on. He has taught me, and hundreds of others, that humility is a powerful force that can change the world.

-Anna Garwood and the Green Empowerment team

As a testiment to how many lives he has touched, as of writing this, there are 1882 fans of his Facebook page…


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Daniel Soto, a Ph.D. student in Physics at Stanford, worked with FEDETA in Quito Ecuador through a MAP Sustainable Energy Fellowship. While working with FEDETA Daniel had the opportunity to travel to the Amazon and work on a project that used river turbines to generate electricity for a small community called San José.

Daniel Soto in the Amazon

Daniel Soto in the Amazon

San José has about 200 residents and is located across the Coca River from Puerto Francisco de Orellano, a town of about 40,000.  San Jose, despite being about 1 km away from a town with electricity and communications has no grid connection.  We got on the bus in Quito and arrived in Coca after a long, hot, and beautiful ride.  That night we were treated to a torrential downpour and a two hour power outage to remind us that we are on the Amazonian frontier between modernity and ancient rain forest.

Constructing the new turbine platform

Constructing the new turbine platform

The next morning we took a dugout canoe to get to the other side of the river.  On the canoe ride I could see both the turbines of San Jose and the power and cell towers of Coca.  It seemed absurd that power could not be strung across the river.  Evidently it wouldn’t be profitable.

The turbine project is a pilot project that worked for a bit but needs some serious attention to get it back running again.  The turbines sit on rafts that are now a bit flooded and have broken blades.  We replaced a couple of busted blades on one of the three turbines and had it running.  The next task was to replace one of the rafts.   The previous raft for the river turbine was built using locally harvested wood. Unfortunately, the wood has soaked up a ton of water, attracted termites, and lost its buoyancy. Our partners on another installation have used plastic barrels filled with polyurethane foam to provide buoyancy for the turbine platform.  In the office we made our own barrels and brought them to the river.

For my last day in Coca, we constructed the raft that will replace the flooded raft that the third of the river turbines sat on.  With the entire raft and floor built, we cleared a spot on the river bank of branches and whatnot and tied the raft to trees on shore.  I didn’t get to mount the generator and get it going but at least there was some small sense of accomplishment before I left Coca to return to the Quito office.

Finished turbine platform

Finished turbine platform

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Thibaut Demaegdt, a project engineer working with the Ecuadorian NGO, FEDETA (The Foundation for Appropriate Technology), describes the activities that he has been working on since arriving in Ecuador in early January.

He has been working on FEDETA projects with another engineer, Juan José del Valle. The civil engineer Mario Brito, Director of FEDETA, is their technical supervisor.

Study for the Community of Pavacachi

Thibaut and Juan José are conducting a study for an American NGO, Earth Sessions, that wants to finance a rural electrification and water pumping project in the Kichwa community of Pavacachi. Pavacachi is located in the Macas province of the Ecuadorian Amazon. The project would provide electricity to the houses in the community as well as a tourist center and research center. The study that Thibaut and Juan José are conducting is divided into four parts:

·    Water pumping system
·    Electrification system for the community houses, school and health center
·    Electrification system for the tourist center
·    Electrification system for the research center

They will focus on studying the solar resource as the wind is low in the Amazon and little data was provided about the water resource. Juan José will study the solar pumping system while Thibaut will study the three electrification projects. A final technical and financial study will be compiled and submitted to Earth Sessions so that the NGO will know what the project’s costs will be and some of the technical and social issues they may encounter.

Study for the Community of Oyacachi

On behalf of the company Solimar International, represented by Hamilton McNutt, FEDETA carried out a study on the exploitation of hydro-electric resources in the community of Oyacachi, located in the Ecuadorian Andes. Solimar is working with the Oyacachi community to establish a tourist lodge where all of the electricity consumed by the lodge will be from renewable sources. Solimar also provides the initial funds for the lodge’s construction and is repaid by the lodge’s revenue, which Hamilton estimates to be a period of 7 years. Once the initial investment is refunded to Solimar then the benefits and management of the entire lodge will return directly to the community’s responsibility.

Community of Oyacachi

Community of Oyacachi

Thibaut went with Juan José and Hamilton to Oyacachi with the following objectives:

·    Estimate the hydro power potential of the proposed site.
·    Learn about the administrative aspects of the project

Measuring the Width of the Río Oyacachi

Measuring the Width of the Río Oyacachi

The group calculated the approximate flow rate of the Rio Oyacahi, and calculated the flow for the driest months of the year as energy calculations are always based on the “worst” month of the year (i.e. the month that will produce the lowest amount of electricity.

Three potential project sites were established and GPS coordinates for each site were logged. Also, the president of the community, who will define the rights of the access to the land for the micro hydro power project, was interviewed to establish his concerns and thoughts about the project.

Thibaut and Juan José are currently writing a brief report about their findings and the different options that they determined and will submit their report to Solimar.  Based on these findings Solimar will determine whether or not to further continue the project.

Study for Two Communities in the Puná Island

On behalf of the NGO CODESAM, FEDETA performed a study for electrification and water pumping projects in two island communities on Puná, located in a bay facing the city of Guayaquil in the province of Guayas. Various projects must be studied separately in regards to the specific needs of the communities. FEDETA will focus on the solar resource and carry out a study about the implementation of photovoltaic systems for electricity and water pumping.

Water pumping in San Pablo de Kantesiya

Community Centre

Community Centre

One of Thibaut’s main projects in Ecuador consists of installing a water pumping system in the community of San Pablo de Kantesiya, which is located in the Sucumbíos province in the north of the Ecuadorian Amazon basin. The community, which is located near the Aguarico river, already has access to electricity due to a community managed photovoltaic project that FEDETA developed a few years ago. However, access to clean drinking water is not yet available and because of the widespread pollution in the Amazonian rivers, notably due to the oil industry, many communities are using unsafe water. FEDETA is working with the NGO Meal a Day, which provides $20,00 to enable Amazonian communities of Ecuador to get access to clean drinking water.

The project has changed several times considering technical options and the corresponding budgets. However, the final draft for the project has been decided on and consists of:
·    Installing a water pumping system in the community
·    Storing water pumped from the source into a reservoir situated high above the community level from which the water can be distributed by gravity
·    Installing two chlorine generators to purify water in two communities on the Río Aguarico (the community of San Pablo de Kantesiya and another community that remains to be defined)

Gonzalo, the UOPGES technician, installing the photovoltaic panel in San Pablo de Kantesiya

Gonzalo, the UOPGES technician, installing the photovoltaic panel in San Pablo de Kantesiya

Project details, such as the location of the water pumping system, have yet to be determined but Thibaut and other FEDETA members are conducting field visits in order to recognize the area and collect the necessary data. Throughout his duration in Ecuador Thibaut will continue working closely on this project and will provide additional details and project updates as the project progresses.

River Turbine Project on the Río Coca

While on his field visit to San Pablo de Kantesiya, Thibaut and other FEDETA members took the opportunity to visit the community of San José del Coca, located in the Amazonian province of Orellana. The community of San José del Coca is home to a pilot turbine project where three turbines are mounted on floating barges and gather energy supplied by the river flow. The water turbines are currently at a standstill due to three major problems:
·    One of the barges, having served as a serving state, is inundated and the control box is full of mud.
·    Out of 9 blades in total (3 tri-bladed turbines), 5 are broken.
·    One of the pulleys used to transmit power to the electrical box is buckled and makes the system operation impossible.

Barge Supporting Two Water Turbines

Barge Supporting Two Water Turbines

The visit was a good opportunity for the group to observe the problems and begin working to repair the systems and develop solutions that will prevent future problems from occurring. Also, they were able to verify that the electrical system was functioning normally and that the UOPGES (Operative Units of Sustainable Energy Management) technicians had properly carried out the maintenance.

Continuing His Work…

Thibaut’s job is mostly theoretical and is principally carried out in the FEDETA offices. The studies that he conducted (Pavacachi, Oyacachi and Isla Puná) are currently under review by customer and the technical director of FEDETA.

Thibaut is enthusiastic about continuing his work with FEDETA in Ecuador. He is currently focusing on the San Pablo de Kantesiya project. As the project funding is already provided by Meal a Day, when the study phase is completed, hardware can be purchased and construction can begin. This will involve a strong presence in the community and additional field work for Thibaut and will be quite a change from working in the office every day.

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Language: English
Dates: November 13 – December 8 (10 2hr Sessions)
Registration Deadline: November 12, 21:00 GMT (13:00 PST)
Cost: $285 general

The purpose of this course is to develop the skills of professionals, students, and engineers in the evaluation, design, installation and management of isolated power generation systems (such as
micro-hydroelectric projects).

The course is an extension of the renewable energy training courses that Green Empowerment has been co-hosting with Soluciones Practicas-ITDG at the Center for Training and Demonstration of Appropriate Technologies in Peru, for the last 4 years. The courses, which draw people from around the world, have focused on the technical and social aspects of small-scale micro-hydro, wind, and solar projects for rural development.

This year, we are joining forces with the Latin American Organization of Energy (OLADE) which coordinates Ministries of Energy from 26 countries to provide secure, integrated and sustainable energy to the countries of Latin America. During October 2008, 125 participants from 26 Ministries of Energy participated in this year’s online class on micro-hydropower.

In November, we are extending this course on-line to the English speaking world. While participants from 6 Ministries of Energy from African countries are already signed up to participate, we’d like to invite anyone interested to join the online course in English.

The course will be taught online, with live lectures and opportunities to ask questions and interact with other students. For more information and for registration, click here for the .PDF (if you don’t have Acrobat Reader, download it here).

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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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