Started in 2014, Renewable World’s Mahogany Project supported three isolated businesses located within a forest reserve on the eastern coast of Nicaragua with access to solar energy systems for homes and enterprises. The project was completed in 2017 with support from in-country partners blueEnergy, iDEAl, and FADCANIC.
- 505 beneficiaries reached,
- 70 solar energy systems installed,
- 7 young adults trained as solar technicians,
- 66% increase in time children spent studying after dark,
- 19% increase in households using solar power for income-generating activities at home.
Ranking 124th in the Human Development Index (HDI), Nicaragua is one of the most impoverished countries in Central America. For some communities, a visit to the nearest hospital requires a dangerous trip across a choppy bay. Fuel and healthcare is paid for with the profits made from small agriculture, but with rising temperatures, crops are struggling. Members of these communities are not only cut off from fuel, but from choices or any chance of betterment.
Life across rural Nicaragua differs little. 60% of Nicaragua’s rural population lives below the national poverty line. For those living in isolated communities, fuel for energy is expensive and difficult to obtain, and as fossil fuels become more scarce, prices continue to rise and accessibility falls further ipso facto. In turn, this lack of energy severely limits career opportunities and prevents the establishment of communal infrastructure, such as health and education centres.
Reliance on traditional energy models (i.e. fossil fuels) has proven that not all societies benefit equally, and our planet takes the hardest hit. Energy development has to be suitable for the communities that consume it, and Nicaraguans are surrounded by an abundance of energy. The tropical sun shines bright, and wind blows strongly along the coast. By establishing renewable energy sources in rural Nicaraguan communities, reliance on costly and inefficient fossil fuels can go down and funds can be redirected towards supporting local enterprise.
The Mahogany Project took place in the remote communities of Magnolia, Belén, and Hone Creek, which are located inland along the vast Río Escondido. These three communities face extreme isolation, with no access to the national grid and the nearest big town a four-hour boat ride away, even the most basic daily activity becomes an expensive challenge. There’s little reason here for elaborate wordplay – imagine if you had to get a four-hour boat ride across choppy waters last time you needed a doctor. The necessity is clear.
As part of this initial feasibility period of the project, Renewable World undertook a series of meetings with project stakeholders to investigate their existing involvement in the communities we were looking to work with, and leverage useful information that could help to define our strategy. Stakeholders included the local authorities, microcredit agencies, other NGOs in the area, and the local universities. The overall interest in the project by the different actors was positive, and cooperation became paramount for us to gain background information and relevant contacts.
At the end of the project’s 3-year period, Renewable World with support from blueEnergy, iDEAl, and FADCANIC set up a bespoke microcredit facility which enables families and small businesses to purchase high-quality solar energy systems at an affordable rate. These solar photovoltaic (PV) systems replaced traditional fuels used for lighting, such as candles, kerosene, and diesel. As a result, this has led to improved living conditions for families, reduced energy costs, and boosted income-generating opportunities.
Technicians installing solar energy systems for homes
Over the final year, the project progressed into the technical installation phase, and saw the installation of solar home systems for beneficiary households who were approved for microcredit loans. Through three installations rounds, 70 energy systems were installed, and of these, 66 systems were installed in households, 1 in a community institution, and 3 in local small enterprises.
A family and the blueEnergy technicians with their newly installed solar energy system
Case Study: Maricela and Walter
Maricela from Magnolia village in Nicaragua now has light in her home thanks to the Mahogany Project, and no longer needs to rely on candles and torches at night. “Now I see the difference in the children, they are happier and can do more after dark”.
The family now enjoys their evenings with ease. Maricela is able to cook dinner more easily with the light, whereas previously she would have to struggle with a torch or cook before the sun went down, meaning the family would have a cold dinner in the evening.
Maricela’s husband Walter has also been able to use the access to power to expand his business and increase his earnings to support his family. Though this is not his full-time job, Walter often cuts hair for members of the community on the weekends. With access to solar lighting in his home, he can now provide haircuts in the evenings for community members, a much more convenient time for him and his clients. He is currently considering about investing in electric clippers and other hair dressing tools, which will allow him to expand his business and provide a service and a source of income that would not have been previously possible.
For Maricela and Walter’s family, and their local community, solar power has brought more than just light – it has brought opportunities and a better quality of life.
Funders and Partnerships
Want to learn more?
You can learn more about the Mahogany project here: Mahogany Ecological Reserve.
We are no longer actively working in Nicaragua, but that doesn’t mean our work there wasn’t important. Click here to read more about how our work in Nicaragua over the past ten years in our recently released 10 Year Impact Report: 2008-2018.