Considering climate change from Renewable World Nicaragua

August 20, 2012

It has been an inspiring week! Dr Daniel Kammen, Climate Advisor to the Obama administration and – amongst many other accolades – a lead author for the Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007), gave an engaging and wide-ranging presentation to relevant actors here in Managua. Renewable World’s aims and ambitions are stirring stuff but it’s always stimulating to hear them echoed by one of the world’s most eminent experts.

Dr Kammen highlighted the significance of 2012 International Year of Sustainable Energy for All and the often underplayed nexus of mitigating climate change, increasing energy access, and alleviating rural poverty. He stated that “access to energy is one of the strongest drivers for economic growth”, taking us on a whistle stop tour of initiatives from Manila to Marlon Brando’s island.

The U.S Ambassador to Nicaragua opened the event, which also included a presentation from Renewable World partner organisation blueEnergy.

blueEnergy highlighted how far they have come since being founded in 2004; providing services using PV solar, locally built small wind turbines and cookstoves, as well as water and sanitation solutions to over 5700 people on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast. Lâl Marandin, blueEnergy co-founder, reminded us of the uniquely challenging ethnic, cultural and linguistic context which operating from the port town of Bluefields involves, compounded by a range of other factors from extreme humidity to constant boat travel – there are no roads in to Bluefields. Having worked together since 2009, Renewable World is delighted to have assisted at a critical stage of blueEnergy’s development, particularly on questions of sustainability, and to be working with an organisation which reaches some of the most isolated communities in Nicaragua. Our shared belief in renewable energy as valuable catalyst for productive initiatives was echoed in blueEnergy’s presentation.

Dr Kammen opened his presentation with NASA satellite photos of steadily retreating arctic sea ice; the quickest and most convincing “tools to make the case” for climate change, around which debates remain strong despite the data. Kammen went on to emphasise the importance of applied solutions to lack of energy access, such as miniature solar panel and lighting options which begin at $9 USD and include options such as Toughstuff, which Renewable World is looking to work with in our East Africa programme, and d.light’s low cost solar lighting and phone charging products. Where major funders are often opposed to these types of initiatives which seem frivolously small-scale, they represent a vital first step towards access for all, regardless of location or income, and have a role in mitigating climate change. This donor reluctance underlines the importance of the support Renewable World provides to partners, particularly on pilot projects and providing grants which enable implementing partners to innovate. Renewable World is ahead of the curve with its market-oriented pro-poor partnership work in Africa and Asia.

There were nods of agreement as Dr Kammen advocated that replacing a ‘dirty service’ with a ‘clean service’ is not enough – it is an opportunity and a necessity to provide a better service. The point was illustrated with the San Francisco Moscone Center’s upgrade to improved quality florescent energy-efficient lighting, which also allowed savings on both air conditioning and the lighting itself. Scaled down, and with a very different impact, the same concept can be applied to Renewable World and partner AsoFenix’s domestic solar lighting project in Silva and Somotignes, in which a higher quality of light (from a bulb rather than a kerosene wick candle) at a lower cost allows beneficiaries to read and study on an evening.

After his time in Managua, Dr Kammen headed over to Bluefields to visit blueEnergy, and one of our joint Renewable World – blueEnergy projects at Kahka Creek. The initiative provides solar energy to a wood workshop, eco lodge and training centre. He stated “It’s really a pleasure to be here in Kahka Creek because one of the most important lessons that the international community needs [to learn] is not only that renewable energy can serve local needs…but that local communities can manage the system, can evolve the system, can find applications that we hadn’t even thought of, and it’s a very practical approach to sustainable energy.” Positive words from someone who is an excellent judge.

The timing of Dr Kammen’s visit, which coincided with bad weather from passing tropical storm Ernesto, emphasised that climate change-related shocks often have most impact on vulnerable, rural communities, such as those around Kahka Creek. Delivering sustainable renewable energy solutions is a vital step in assisting these communities to adapt and economically bolster themselves against the symptoms of a changing climate, whilst mitigating against the causes of the problem itself.