Acciona Microenergy Foundation has launched a new programme which consists of providing electricity to isolated communities in the Amazon through home photovoltaic systems, which provide basic energy services to the residents of these settlements without endangering the valuable environmental balance of the Amazon or disrupting their way of life. In the first stage, the Foundation will provide electricity for the first time to approximately 1.000 households in the Peruvian basin of the Napo river, a tributary of the Amazon; the model will subsequently be replicated in other river basins in the region.
Acciona Microenergy Foundation, supported by Peru’s National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development and Technology Innovation (FONDECYT), has installed the first 61 home photovoltaic systems, providing electricity to 325 people in 4 settlements; this enables them to use 3 electric lights and a 12-volt charger for mobile phones, rechargeable flashlights, radios, etc.
The pilot project validated the technical and economic viability of the solution developed by Acciona Microenergy Foundation. This led to the design of a replicable model for providing electricity to settlements that cannot be connected to the electricity grid due to geographical dispersion, relief or the environmental impact that an electricity network would have on sensitive ecosystems, such as the Amazon.
The solution is based on state-of-the-art home photovoltaic systems that are easy to install and maintain (plug&play), based on a pre-pay model designed to ensure the economic sustainability of the programme, as users make a small payment to cover equipment maintenance which is 50% less than their former expenditure on other lighting solutions such as candles and oil lamps.
Acciona Microenergy Foundation engages in awareness-raising and training in the communities where its electric systems are implemented, so that local residents are able to perform basic maintenance and use the equipment efficiently.
Acciona Microenergy Foundation has begun to expand the project to an additional 350 households in the Napo river basin, in cooperation with the Technical University of Madrid’s Innovation and Technology for Development Centre, the ICAI Engineers Foundation for Development, and the Institute for Research in Technology at the School of Engineering (ICAI) of Comillas Pontifical University of Madrid. The project is co-financed by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation.
Positive impacts: improvements in sanitation, education and the environment.
The households use the electricity fundamentally to extend study hours (67%) and production activities (43%) and for cooking (21%).
Also, abandoning other lighting sources, such as battery-operated flashlights, oil lamps and candles (which produce a dim light and harmful smoke), reduces the likelihood of developing eye and lung diseases.
There is also the positive environmental impact in such valuable ecosystems, by eliminating the use and uncontrolled disposal of batteries and the emission of polluting gases emissions by replacing diesel-fuelled generators with photovoltaic panels.
Amazonia and electrification: the challenge of respecting the environment and improving living standards
The Amazon region is an area of high ecological value, covering more than 6.7 million km2 across 9 different countries. The Amazonian communities, mostly indigenous people from different ethnic groups, live in remote and dispersed locations which are accessible only by river, with extreme temperature and rainfall conditions. These circumstances, together with the cost and impact of building and maintaining power distribution networks, make widespread conventional power grids inviable; consequently, there is an indeterminate number of people in Amazonia, estimated at several million, who do not have access to electricity.
Many villages generate electricity with fossil-fuelled generators that pollute the environment and provide no more than 3 hours of electricity per day, as well as being prone to blackouts when funds run out. Others use alternative energy devices such as candles, oil lamps and battery-powered flashlights, radios, etc.
Acciona Microenergy Foundation’s challenge was to develop an electricity supply model based on renewables that could be sustainable in technical and economic terms while also being affordable.