Earlier this month it was reported that three communities from the Chilean highlands have just received solar panels, which will be set up and maintained by five women who travelled to the Barefoot College in Rajasthan, India, overcoming language barriers to bring photovoltaic energy to 1,100 people in their villages.
These villages are in the Atacama desert more than 3,000 metres above sea level in the Chilean altiplano, near the Bolivian border. Water is scarce and electricity comes from a generator only for two and a half hours late in the evening.
Since 1972, the Barefoot College has been addressing the basic needs of local people for education and then extended its interests to water, electricity, housing, health and income. It has now trained 700 poor, rural women from 49 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America as solar engineers, to bring solar lighting to remote inaccessible villages off the energy grid; 450,000 people in remote villages in different regions now have light, and the carbon emissions caused by burning fuel and firewood have been reduced by 13 metric tonnes a day.
For six months, the five Chilean villagers received hands-on training at the college in fabricating, installing and maintaining solar lighting systems. This had been enabled by the Barefoot College, Chile’s National Women’s Service (SERNAM), the Regional Secretariat of the Energy Ministry and the Italian company Enel Green Power, which donated the equipment.
The five women will be responsible for installing, repairing and providing maintenance for solar lighting units in the households of their villages, for a minimum of five years. They are also expected to set up a rural electronic workshop to store components and is a mini-electric plant with a potential of 320 watts per hour.
One of the Barefoot College trainees, Terán, is ready to use her newfound knowledge in Caspana: “The idea is to start by bringing light to the houses, and maybe later we could install a refrigerator, which everyone wants. We also want to share our training, but we need help to start making and selling solar lamps. And people want us to teach them, so that the women themselves will know how to install solar lighting in their homes”.
Carlos Arenas, the regional energy ministry secretary for the Macro Zona Norte in northern Chile adds:
“Our energy system is still being developed, and in many villages electricity comes from generators powered by fossil fuels such as diesel. But in some cases we are complementing these supplies with renewable sources, particularly wind and solar. For that reason we supported this initiative…an enriching experience for the people who live in such remote villages and who lack a steady energy supply, and in some cases pay a high cost for energy”.
He pointed out that the country’s northern region has vast potential. The Atacama desert has one of the highest solar radiation levels worldwide, according to studies by the University of Chile and solar panels covering an area of 400 square km could fully meet the country’s energy needs.
More about the Barefoot College at http://www.ecowalkthetalk.com/blog/2011/01/22/bunker-roy-barefoot-college-for-rural-upliftment/