A little energy, a lot of change in Nicaragua!

February 21, 2011

Its been a really long day but packed full of great experiences.  We visited a community called Cajiniquil, with our partner Asofenix. Cajiniquil’s wind turbine, paid for thanks to donations from EWEA, WPD and International Power went into operation last May, and it has been a life-changing experience for the people of this small, remote community.

And when I say remote, although only about 3 hours from Managua, Cajiniquil is not easy to reach. An hour on the Pan American Highway, then an hour or so on increasingly bumpier dirt tracks, finishing with a monumental 4-wheel drive heave up a mountainside, until the vehicle could take us no further and we had to walk the last 40 minutes like nimble mountain goats (or in my case stumbling city slickers).

With wobbly legs and pouring sweat I tried to tidy my hair and cool my face down with a little water to be greeted warmly by Zenayda and fellow members of the community.  First of all they took us to their well, the newest addition to the nearly completed project. Power from the hybrid solar/wind project is lighting homes cleanly and providing plug sockets for charging phones and powering small appliances, as well as now pumping water from the well up the hill to a head tank, from which in the next few weeks the community members will connect piping which will bring clean, fresh water on demand to every house.  A year ago, Zenayda and her family were lighting their homes with kerosene, eking out batteries for a radio and carrying buckets of water up the hill every time they needed to cook, clean or water their crops.  What a change!

Dahley, one of the two guys who were trained to maintain the system explained that even now they are pumping water the system is still producing more energy than they need – the wind is just perfect where the wind turbine is situated – on the edge of an escarpment, and the batteries (which store enough energy for the village’s needs for 3 days) charge up within an hour.  People wonder if renewable energy can be relied upon? Well this wind turbine has not stopped turning since last May – and IF it does, there’s a back up solar array on the control centre which can charge the batteries. At the moment the issue is too much energy – not a bad problem to have.

With the excess energy, Dahley and his friend Pedro who shares the work of looking after the control centre, are talking about how they might one day add another pump and tank so that they can irrigate their land.  Right now, Pedro’s coffee crop is watered by hand – 8 buckets worth every other day – and this takes him about two hours.  But water for irrigation would mean they could grow more crops, in less time AND have a longer growing season. It makes a lot of sense, and I get the impression that these enterprising young people could make it happen.

But then, as we were just about to visit the turbine an important message came to us – lunch was served.  Zenayda had prepared a feast of beans, rice and vegetables, corn flatbread and home made cheese – with popcorn and honey balls for dessert – delicious! After dinner I talked to Zenayda for a while, we shared our love of soap operas (she now has a TV and is a great fan of Mexican soaps), and she told me more about the changes in her community – how she remembers her grandmother pounding maize by hand for hours.  Now Zenayda can take a sack of maize to a place in her local community where they have a maize grinding machine, and for just the equivalent of 15p her whole sack is ground in minutes.  She explained that the community is proud of the system because they can have energy without damaging the natural resources.  She also said that she was touched that the international community cared about providing energy for people in Nicaragua, and protecting the environment.

I could have talked to Zenayda for hours but there was just a quick visit to the turbine before we had to leave.  As we stood looking at the stunning view over the escarpment, suddenly Jorlan, Zenayda’s 8 year old nephew who had been extremely shy so far, ran up, stood on a rock and held out his hand.  In it was a leaf which he had carefully ripped, then poked the stem through the centre – making his very own tiny wind turbine!  How fantastic to see the next generation excited about the power of the wind – perhaps in a few years Jorlen will be making full sized turbines for his neighbouring communities?

Community wind turbine in Cajiniquil in Nicaragua and local boy Jorlan with his toy turbine made from leaves and twigs