This was the article submitted to Solar Today magazine for the May, 2009 Edition. The edited version found in the magazine can be found here.
The beauty of Nicaragua is abundant when traversing the country-side, the skyline dominated by volcanoes while verdant forests call out with the sounds of howler monkeys and parakeets. In between these misty mountains and fracturing these lush jungles are miles and miles of cattle land, interspersed with scattered plots of corn, rice and beans. The campesinos who extract an existence from this rural landscape, while always quick with a smile and a hot plate of rice and beans, are among of the poorest and most uneducated in the entire country. From the time they can wield a machete, the children must go chop wood for cooking or help provide sustenance from the fields, their education often coming in the form of how to best utilize their land. Many times formal school is just not an option, as surviving in the short term takes precedence over thriving in the long term.
Out here electricity is no birth right, and those fortunate few whose shacks are reached by power lines precariously propped up on long, forked sticks must live with the reality of high energy costs and electricity that is sporadic at best – the frequent power outages often last days at a time. In its place dirty, dangerous kerosene lamps are frequently used for lighting or for those that can afford it, a 12-volt battery is briefly used for some lights and a radio, before being run empty and requiring a full day to take back into town on a horse to replace with a new one. So lives Nicaragua’s rural population: unknowingly on the verge of their next major revolution – a solar revolution.
Nicaragua’s Minister of Education took a major step in the right direction this past fall, awarding Suni Solar, one of the premiere solar installers in the country, with a contract to supply 924 rural schools with solar electricity. Working with the local communities, Suni Solar dispersed 8 teams to cover the countryside, traversing miles of muddy trails across rivers, valleys, and volcanoes by any means necessary – truck, horse, boat or even by foot. Each system consists of one Crown 100 watt panel, with a 12-volt deep cycle battery, a small Phocos charge controller and a Vector 225 watt inverter. This system, a small fraction of what is required of the average American household, provides enough power for 4 CFLs with enough surplus power for watching educational programs on a small TV and DVD player through the inverter. Often installed on what amounts to little more than a shack with a dry erase board, these small systems and their corresponding illumination make it possible for the rural Nicaraguans, young and old, to support their families by day and still get their education by attending classes at night.
All across Nicaragua these older campesinos are now receiving the basic education they were robbed of as youths, the youths are receiving the basic education that should be guaranteed to every child across the globe and, collectively, they are receiving the opportunity to provide a better life for themselves and those around them. Plagued by so many economic and political problems, the fact that solar energy can take root and grow in such an unstable region is a true testament to the fact that decentralized renewable energy sources are the clear path for the world at large and are here to stay.
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