Renewable energy programs are blossoming throughout Latin America as the continent strives to meet basic living standards for many remotely located communities. From the southern tips of Patagonia to northern Mexico it is possible to find research activities and programs focused upon energy provision; anything from solar initiatives, wind technologies, and hyrdo-power projects. Such projects are leading to the creation of more efficient logistic systems, energizing remote communities and creating unprecedented business opportunities throughout Latin America.
One project in particular calls our attention. It is last year’s winners of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Sasakawa Prize: the NGO Project Action’s hydro-power program, which brings clean power to the eastern slopes of the Peruvian Andes region. Since 1992 the organization has installed over 47 micro hydro-electric systems within the region that propel water to create energy. The technology has been adapted from larger scale hydro-schemes to introduce micro energy stations.
This Peruvian model is recognized as an innovative technology that is sustainable and potentially replicable in other remote communities around the world where hydro electrical potential exists. Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, said that NGO Practical Action is “showing tremendous leadership in bringing clean energy to remote communities in Peru, and in doing so [is] setting further examples of the energy alternatives available to the developing but also the developed world.”
In a country where 67% percent of the rural population does not have access to electricity, the project has made a substantial contribution to energy provision with the installation of a micro-hydro scheme that brings clean power to approximately 30,000 people. The objective of the NGO is to utilize such pilot projects to disseminate technologies, explore advantages of their installation, and create small business opportunities through the introduction of energy, all the while maintaining a focus on creating sustainable communities.
Access to energy has stimulated development within these remote communities, some of which have doubled in size, attracting people back to their rural homes for business investment opportunities and to access a better quality of life. Business development has been expansive, with restaurants, internet cafes, and furniture makers for example, springing up throughout villages.
The project also generates regional green industry activity, with a range of small companies responsible for the manufacturing of turbines to be used in the energy project. Stressing the importance of local industry input also makes way for increased use of renewable energy initiatives in Peru.
Whilst there are some criticisms of the approach to energy introduction (exposure to modern technologies – TV, radio etc – that create unrealistic desires and unsuitable images within rural communities), it is certainly fair to applaud this environmentally sustainable approach to community development that has stimulated sustainable business growth throughout the region.