Our colleagues at Greenlight Planet, a company that manufactures the solar light you see in this photo, estimate that study times for students in homes that have switched from kerosene lighting to solar increase by 75 percent. In the homes we visit in Central America, we regularly find good evidence that this is the case. Several customers have commented that kids can study better at night and adults can crunch numbers for their business, or work on their savings and loans group ledgers later into the night. This is perhaps the greatest impact of our work alongside the direct cash savings that families experience.
A member of the Lenca Women’s Ceramics Cooperative in rural Marcala, Honduras holds up a piece of Ocote candle that she uses when she needs light after the sun sets on her village.
In Central America, 7 million people live without any access to electricity. Worldwide, more than 1.5 billion people have no electricity. Alternative sources of energy, such as kerosene and wood, are expensive and have a negative impact on both human health and the natural environment.
Our Solar Energy Program is helping to bring clean energy to local communities throughout Central America by providing access to affordable solar powered solutions.
So I thought I would attempt to share a little glimpse into my life-changing summer experience. I’ll start with a bit of background. My name is Kelly Cannon. I’m a Global Studies and Spanish major with a Business minor currently studying at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. I landed a position as the International Programs Intern with the non-profit organization Trees, Water & People (TWP) this summer. I was enthused. The internship seemed to combine all of my passions – community development, travel, Latin America, Spanish, people, and adventure. I could not wait for the incredible learning opportunity ahead.
So just like that I found myself spending six weeks exploring every corner of Honduras and Guatemala generating market data for a clean energy distribution enterprise. I conducted household interviews, held focus groups, taught communities about solar energy, while also exploring the competitive landscape, supply chain opportunities and developing a marketing plan for solar energy distribution in energy-poor regions of Guatemala.
I visited dozens of communities throughout these regions, but I want to share about my experience in one place in particular. La Bendición, Guatemala is surrounded by breathtaking views of lush, green landscape and three volcanoes. The best part about staying in La Bendición was just living life with the people there. I stayed with a host family for four days. I spent a large amount of time with my host mom and her daughter, Silsy. We woke up at 6:00am and brought a bucket of corn to the molino. We waited in line with all the other women, poured the corn through some complicated machinery, and watched it transform into flour used to make tortillas. I’m pretty sure I became a professional tortilla-maker by the time I left the community.
Another morning my mom and Silsy took me on a long walk to a cornfield where their cows graze. We visited the animals and then picked a big bundle of leaves off the corn. When we returned home, they taught me how to fold the leaves around flour to make tamales. Later that afternoon, they called me out to the backyard for another lesson. They snatched up one of the chickens running around the yard and held it over the pila (the outdoor sink). My mom and Silsy broke its’ neck right in front of me, poured out the guts and blood, and plucked the feathers off the body before putting it in a bucket of hot water. One hour later we were all sitting around the table eating the tamales and the chicken. I treasure my time in La Bendición experiencing a new way of life with my host mom and Silsy. I learned so much about their daily tasks while sharing in wonderful conversation. I fell in love with moments during my time there that I will always cherish.
In addition to living life with the people in La Bendición, I was of course also working on the solar energy project for TWP. I held a meeting with the women in La Bendición the day I arrived to teach them about the solar energy products that TWP distributes and let them know I would be visiting households and conducting interviews. I wanted to ask families about how they illuminated their houses at night with no access to electricity, calculate their current energy expenditures, demonstrate the products, and gauge their interest in this alternate form of clean energy. The women expressed gratitude and excitement at the meeting and many volunteered to be interviewed first. Over the next few days Silsy and I talked to seventeen different families in La Bendición. The community, as a whole, showed great interest in the solar energy products. The people told me about the extreme need for this project in their community and the obstacles they face on a daily basis due to the absence of light. Many families wanted to purchase the lights from me on the spot. Sadly, I had to explain I was not selling the products just doing a preliminary investigation in order to bring the products to the community in the future.
The experience in La Bendición was eye-opening and encouraging. I felt at home there. The interviews allowed me to learn a lot about the current energy situation in this community and in Guatemala as a whole. The people were supportive and welcoming, especially once they learned my purpose for visiting. When I left on a chicken bus that Friday morning to head to a new community, some of the women came out, kissed me on the cheek, and wished me luck on the rest of my trip. I was sad to leave but also even more excited and passionate about bringing solar energy to families in hard-to-reach communities.
We are excited to announce that we have been selected for the Energy Globe National Award for our clean energy project in Honduras. One of today’s most prestigious environmental awards, it is presented annually to projects focusing on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and resource conservation.
Our project, “Clean Energy for Central America: Providing Solar Technology to Last Mile Communities”, is a partnership with Honduran non-governmental organization Asociación Hondureña para el Desarrollo (AHDESA), to create a market in Honduras for life-changing cleantech products that provide solar lighting to rural families without access to electricity. These products save families money by reducing fossil fuel consumption, while decreasing deadly indoor air pollution and lowering hazardous greenhouse gas emissions.
In Honduras alone, 2.3 million people still live off-grid, with no access to electricity. Families rely on kerosene lamps and candles that are expensive and produce high levels of indoor air pollution. Our cleantech products deliver immediate, triple bottom line returns to the poorest communities in the Western Hemisphere. Reducing dependency on kerosene and switching over to solar lighting systems brings staggering social, environmental, and economic returns.
“We envision a world where every person, down to the last mile or ‘base of the pyramid,’ has access to clean energy in an affordable manner.” said Sebastian Africano, TWP’s International Director.
This project will now move on to a second round of judging. It is eligible for the International Energy Globe Award, to be announced later this month.
To learn more please visit the Energy Globe Award’s website!
Passion for a business venture that meets the triple bottom-line – people, planet, and profit – is what really drives a team of students at the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA Program at Colorado State University. Working with Trees, Water & People, the group of four students are helping to develop Luciérnaga,a social enterprise that commercially distributes solar lighting products through networks of community-based organizations (CBOs) and agricultural cooperatives in Honduras.
Luciérnaga (“firefly” in Spanish) has a strong sustainable mission: “use an extensive network of agricultural cooperatives to provide 2.2 million Honduran families without electricity access to affordable, efficient and environmentally friendly solar lights that can be used for educational, household, and economic gains.”
This summer, the GSSE team will be traveling to Honduras to conduct in-depth research on Luciérnaga’s business operations such as the supply chain distribution, cooperative functionality, and customer service. They will use the information learned in the field to close Luciérnaga’s business gaps and increase scalability in Honduras and throughout other countries in Central America.
The diverse GSSE team, composed of Alicia Prusinksi, Magaly Mori, Kevin Rodriguez, and Trang Tran (pictured below from left to right), is currently fundraising for their trip by participating in a business competition, pitching to social and sustainable businesses, and crowdfunding.
Check out their website, meet their team, and consider funding their project. Remember that with one good deed YOU can make a change in the world!
I recently returned from visiting our friends at PowerMundo in Peru. What a great trip! PowerMundo and TWP are currently partnering on a project with the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA). Together, we are distributing Cleantech solar products, primarily to “last mile” communities in rural areas of Central America and Peru, as part of our State Department funded project Improving Access to Clean Energy in Latin America.
Cleantech solar products are a high quality, low-cost solution to energy poverty – illuminating homes and providing mobile phone charging at the household level. These innovative products reduce daily energy expenses and indoor air pollution associated with current alternatives for home lighting (such as kerosene), and they pay for themselves within 6 – 18 months.
I am constantly inspired by the collaborations we have formed to help increase the deployment of these renewable, energy efficient technologies. This work is helping to reduce emissions in Latin America while increasing low carbon economic growth. A win-win-win for people, the environment, and local economies.
TWP’s International Director, Sebastian Africano, joined me with our Honduras partners, Ben Osorto and Ivan Caballero, to facilitate South-South collaboration between Central America and Peru while providing some project review and fiscal oversight duties. On top of meeting our business obligations, we were particularly glad to get up in the high mountainous Quechua towns in the Cusco area.
On this same trip, I also made my way to Central America, where I spent the afternoon with Lisa Kubiske, the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras. After a delightful lunch, we visited with Tim Longworth at Zamarano University, located in the valley of the Yeguare River in Honduras. Here, we saw the Stove Testing Facility at the university and demonstrated some of our Cleantech products to the Ambassador. While in the area, we also had the opportunity to visit some of our clean cookstove recipients and received valuable feedback about how the stoves performed in the most important facility – people’s homes!
Today, billions of people around the world are still without access to electricity in their homes, and billions more are still cooking over an open fire to cook every single meal. Regional cooperation and collaborations like this are helping to light homes around the world and bring safe cooking solutions to families. Stay tuned for more updates!