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  Number 353 | Diciembre 2010
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Nicaragua

The Adventure of Producing Blue Energy in the Caribbean Region

The seductive caring the Sandinista revolution sparked in the ’80s is at the heart of the economic, social and cultural adventure embarked upon by blueEnergy, a small organization that doesn’t believe in “black gold.” Instead it’s generating “blue energy” in isolated, impoverished areas of the Caribbean Coast.

William Grigsby Vergara

In 2006, energy cuts in most of Nicaragua frequently lasted up to eight hours a day, affecting production and commerce and the collective and personal life of the entire population. The following year the incoming FSLN government decided to join the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), an initiative of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez.

That decision was followed immediately by the arrival of fossil fuel electrical generators, some from Venezuela and others from Cuba. Tankers also came from Venezuela bringing oil and its derivatives to supply these plants, offered at preferential prices through an agreement that provided the new government hundreds of millions of dollars by selling some on to the national public. According to Liberal politician Eliseo Núñez Morales, 54% of our country’s electricity generation is now in the hands of companies organized by ALBA. Even though we’re tied so strongly to petroleum, the National Energy Strategy announced by the Ministry of Energy and Mines is to transform Nicaragua’s energy grid, weaning it off its extreme dependence on “black gold” and slowly but surely replacing it with other renewable and therefore sustainable energy generating sources.

A difficult adventure in a country like ours

On June 17, I had the opportunity of attending the launching in Managua of the Nicaraguan Association for Renewable Energy and the Environment, which goes by the name Renovables (“Renewables”). The alliance has been cofounded by over 20 Nicaraguan institutions, all of them specializing in the development of clean energy, including Amayo, Aprodelbo, Asofenix, Atder-BL, blueEnergy, Emeaw-Wiwilí, Gier, Grupo Fénix-UNI-Pfae, Hismow S.A., Mujeres Solares de Totogalpa, Pch La Florida, Pch Río Bravo, Pch Bilampí-wanawás, Pch El Naranjo and Proleñá.

They have set themselves the titanic mission of massively increasing the use of renewable energy sources in both the public and private sector and to educate, research and publicize the results to give Nicaragua a future with sustainable energy. Nicaragua, which exploits barely 5% of its renewable natural resources to produce electricity, has the most expensive electricity in all of Central America, with only 65% of the country’s population receiving service. There’s insufficient knowledge of the possibilities for generating and using renewable sources, and good energy efficiency practices aren’t publicized enough to make savings on current and future production. And finally, there’s a lack of incentives and favorable conditions to produce clean energy.

Among the various titans who have thrown themselves into the adventure of changing this discouraging panorama, I sought out blueEnergy, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization (NGO) working for the past six years in Nicaragua’s Southern Caribbean Region (officially known as the South Atlantic Autonomous Region, or RAAS), a particularly poor and sparsely populated area of the country where nearly 80% of the population has no electricity. I wanted to know more about these promoters of “blue energy.”

Three childhood friends,
three crucial accidents

The original idea for blueEnergy came from Mathias Craig during a social entrepreneurship class he was taking at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Where could he share his scientific knowledge and invest in renewable energy? Nicaragua immediately popped up on his mental radar screen, because he already knew our country. His mother, French linguist Colette Grinevald, started working here in the eighties, developing a program to rescue the autochthonous languages of the Caribbean Coast, in particular to revitalize the Rama people’s language. Mathias had thus been familiar with Nicaragua from childhood, and he and his brother Guillaume had spent their summer vacation here in 1989, when they were 11 and 13, respectively.

Other years, while their mother was away in Nicaragua doing her field work, the two brothers stayed at home in the United States with their “third brother,” Carlos, an outstanding student from Bluefields whom the Craig-Grinevald family had taken to the United States during the revolutionary years to give him the opportunity for a better education.

Carlos was there as Mathias and Guillaume went through primary and secondary school, then watched as they became adults. His presence slowly opened the two brothers up to the culture of Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast. After Mathias finished at MIT, he and Guillaume brought on board a childhood friend, Lâl Marandin, who had already heard the marvelous stories about Nicaragua, and these “three musketeers” set off on the adventure of a lifetime, one they are still living today.

But just as they were setting out on this adventure, all three suffered serious accidents. Lâl Marandin fell several meters down a mountain he was climbing, and nearly ended up in a wheelchair for life. Mathias Craig suffered a pulmonary embolism that had him bedridden on the edge of collapse for several weeks and prevented him traveling to Nicaragua to support his friends in the first months of their new enterprise. And Guillaume Craig, who was managing a bar in France at the time, was kicked in the neck during a night on the town and suffered a spasm that nearly killed him. These three coincidental events acted as a real springboard for the birth and impetus of blueEnergy, as they led each young man to rethink the meaning of life.

The NGO is currently functioning from three country bases. Nicaragua is the operational base where the decisions are made, the United States the international base, and France the home base. blueEnergy now employs some 40 people, over half of whom are Nicaraguans.

Step by step in search of a dream

Lâl Marandin was the first to come here to investigate the conditions and the feasibility of an alternative energy project in Bluefields. Should it be based on sun, wind or water? He made the first protocol reviews and held the first workshops. A few months later Guillaume followed him, while Mathias was recovering from his pulmonary illness and providing support from the United States.

They knew from the outset that it wouldn’t be easy, but the idea quickly caught on with both the authorities and the population, since their proposal was the local development of a chain of labor, value and knowledge, taking advantage of local capacities to improve the inhabitants’ quality of life through renewable energy. At the beginning, the Cristóbal Colón Polytechnic Institute of Bluefields, which is a member of the National Technological Institute of Nicaragua (INATEC), provided blueEnergy the space, the initial tools and the logistical support to train the first locals in the new technologies. The relationship with INATEC was strengthened with the friendship forged between the three founders and Ismael Castillo, a teacher from the Polytechnic Institute who has accompanied blueEnergy all along the road.

Next they developed the first campaign to measure the wind in the Caribbean Coast, after which international cooperation took up the cause. blueEnergy was getting stronger. At that point they decided to go beyond the Caribbean and also provide some basic services to populations not connected to the energy grid in the Pacific half of Nicaragua, including technical training in constructing and maintaining aeolic turbines for assembling hybrid systems with solar panels, access to drinking water through the local production of bio-sand filters, constructing wells, and providing incentives to enterprising locals...

Mathias explained to me that blueEnergy’s main goal is to become a formal organization, institutionalize itself and grow. At the beginning they didn’t have a legal structure, relationships with similar organizations or even sustainable financial support. The only contact was the brothers’ mother, Colette. At that time, Mathias wasn’t directly addressing the project’s difficulties, since he was first in Washington and then San Francisco hunting up funds and volunteers. This work saw him named a “CNN Hero” in the campaign the network promoted in 2007. More recently he was inducted into the Fellowship of the Ashoka global association of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs.

“We want to go where we’re needed”

“It’s been a continual learning process,” all three say repeatedly. They began to realize that the coast population’s economic, social and cultural problems are so enormous that it’s not enough to promote energy generation, no matter how renewable, to achieve comprehensive development. What does it mean to offer electricity to a community where the children don’t go to school because the water they drink often makes them sick and drop out of school? How do you offer an electric lighting system if the population doesn’t have the capacity to record the community’s payments and thus ensure the project’s sustainability in that community? “We had to develop our imagination,” they repeat.

They sought out partners and associations that would complement their work and decided that blueEnergy should act as a catalyst among the different institutions and entities, linking isolated populations with the local, regional and central governments. “We’re a kind of go-between among the networks of the complex cooperation system working in Bluefields and the RAAS as a whole.” This interface—and interlocution—service has turned blueEnergy into an increasingly Nicaraguan institution.

Lâl stresses that blueEnergy wants to reach places the State doesn’t get to. “Our mission is to go where we’re needed. And experience leads us to the most isolated indigenous populations in the South Caribbean, to the territories of the Rama and Creoles peoples.” They also work in the Pearl Lagoon basin, in the Garífuna people’s territory.

Banking on both sun and wind

They intervene at various levels. Enough training to achieve real maintenance and sustainability needs to be done in Bluefields, which has a more normalized job market, albeit with its own particularities. This will allow financial backing down the road so the service can be paid for at a rate negotiated with the users and cooperation workers, thus forming a financial fund that can assure the system’s maintenance.

While adapted to both the public and its needs, the training provided is what the system requires. blueEnergy meets with a community to reach an agreement about how the system would be used, where to put it, how to finance it and when to start it working. Everything is agreed to with the beneficiary community and blueEnergy only takes charge of the installation and first few months of basic maintenance, until it becomes a self-sustaining community system.

There’s great potential for renewable energy in Bluefields and the RAAS as a whole thanks to the ecosystem’s benevolence. blueEnergy reaps the benefit of sun and wind, mainly using solar panels and windmills. It doesn’t work with small hydroelectric plants, despite the abundance of water, because most of the coast is flat so there’s not enough gravity-based energy potential in the bodies of water in the communities where they work For the near future, they’re thinking about working in a sustainable and technically appropriate way with the immense biomass potential that exists in the region.

Achievements worth celebrating

So far, blueEnergy has achieved results in 15 Caribbean communities, benefiting some 3,000 people with more than 12 kilowatts of the first capacity ever installed, 210 small installations that provide electrical energy to a similar number of households, and dozens of water filters. They’ve accomplished this with 20 local employees and an average of 15-20 international resident volunteers. Nearly 200 international volunteers have passed through the blueEnergy teams in the Caribbean Coast.

blueEnergy is also responsible for the successful Monkey Point project, located in an isolated community south of Bluefields. The 300 inhabitants there had never had electricity until one of the aeolic-solar hybrid systems it works with was installed in June 2007. The 5 kilowatt (kW) hours it produces daily are enough for the school, the radio communication system and recharging the batteries for the health center and five households. They’ve since added another generating system and are now managing an integrated system to store, purify and distribute drinking water.

The hybrid aeolic-solar system

blueEnergy’s specialty is producing 100% of its own solutions locally, be they the potable water filters or the wind-driven turbines known as aero-generators, the towers that sustain them and the rest of the system that makes them function. They have to import the solar panels, as they are very difficult to produce locally. blueEnergy knows the recipe, but has to import the “ingredients” such as magnets, copper and electrical and electronic components. At times they’re available in Managua, or even Bluefields, but always in smaller quantities and at a far higher price.

“We want to build various windmill prototypes to generate aeolic energy,” Lâl explained. “We’ve already developed three products, starting with a 500-watt one, which functioned very well at the beginning, but doesn’t provide much energy. Then we gradually started specializing in the 1-kW model. Now we’re going to try to specialize in another one, with 1.5-2 kW of power. Everything depends on how the research team develops.”

He went on to explain that “the hybrid aeolic-solar system is very beneficial. It has the advantage of a lot of complementarity between the parts. Both systems fill a bank of batteries with sources that complement each other in an excellent way. It’s simple: with the changes of climate there’s no wind when there’s sun and there’s no sun when there’s wind. This alternability and complementarity make using the two parts simple and permits a very cost-effective design for isolated communities.”

The after-effects of “black gold”

Lâl and the Craig brothers were surprised to see how quickly coast people opened up to the new alternative systems to oil. Perhaps it’s because of the terrible experiences they’ve had with diesel-fueled generators. The RAAS is littered with the rubble, skeletons and leftover bits from development programs that failed when the coast communities realized how expensive it was to maintain these plants, with getting replacement parts only complicating things even more.

Transporting the diesel-fueled generators also required logistics impossible to achieve in an area without adequate infrastructure: the RAAS has no roads, much less good ones; port facilities; or communication... It wasn’t profitable from any perspective to continue investing in such big machines, which double the cost of fuel transported from the capital city of Managua. The bad experiences with petroleum derivatives meant that the alternative energies promoted by blueEnergy were given a warm welcome.

Up against another culture
and excessive bureaucracy

One of blueEnergy’s difficulties in developing its project has been that, despite all their prior links and sympathies, its promoters are foreigners. “We had to learn how to work with people from another culture, who speak different languages from the rest of Nicaragua, and whose personal relations have different nuances. The Coast is a whole other Nicaragua. Winning people’s confidence is complicated,” confessed Lâl, who remarked that the lack of basic infrastructures and the advance of drug trafficking in the area are two key elements discouraging foreign cooperation.

Yet another difficulty has been dealing with the bureaucracy. But despite all obstacles, they were able to meet all the State’s administrative and financial requirements and register with the Ministry of Government and the Foreign Relations Ministry, as required of international NGOs that work in Nicaragua. The process wasn’t easy. “If we’d known at the beginning that there were so many difficulties in Nicaragua,” admitted Lâl, “we wouldn’t have been able to throw ourselves into this project. We only got through with immense faith in the meaning and value of what we were doing and with the tremendous generosity of many anonymous people who helped us and understood that we would collapse without that help. It was an almost miraculous process.”

Indicators and rigid
deadlines don’t work here

Another big hurdle blueEnergy had to get past was the working relations with many international aid agencies. The way most international cooperation projects are conceived doesn’t mesh well with the ever-changing context of the Caribbean Coast, with its many uncertainties and chaotic power mapping. “You don’t always know who will make the final decisions: the regional, the central or the municipal government… The lack of institutional agility hinders the work and has been an additional problem we’ve had to fight.”

A 2009 study by the Stanford Social Innovation Review shows that international cooperation functions in a vicious circle (The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle), not only in Nicaragua, but everywhere. This strangles nonprofit organizations that want to meet more ambitious targets than reality permits.

One example serves. In Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast one never knows exactly when the local person in charge of a new project will show up. It could be today, tomorrow or three months from now. The delay obviously sets back every subsequent step. When that happens in a project with a $300-500,000 budget, the complications and social and environmental impacts of the delays are even greater. International cooperation doesn’t accept ambivalence, delays or uncertainties. Its evaluation is based on indicators, results, values and rigid dates that aren’t always adapted to what goes on in Nicaragua’s Caribbean region.

When small NGOs such as blueEnergy are getting started they often minimize the need for infrastructure and operating costs and try to seduce international donors with their objectives. “How can you explain to a potential investor what actually goes on in a region with no roads or telephones? People from international cooperation don’t understand these complications because they’ve never experienced them,” says Lâl. “It’s logical. So we try to serve them the whole dish without commenting on its ingredients or the difficulty in preparing the recipe. We have no other choice.”

Cultural and financial limitations

Because the donor community has no clear, close-up sense of the difficulties facing small Nicaraguan NGOs, it has unrealistic expectations about project implementation. Donors tend to think all problems can be resolved with a meeting and the signing of a few agreements. But blueEnergy knows what it’s like to then feel the pressure of responding rapidly and satisfying expectations that turn out to be unachievable.

“Even if a project’s progress requires a coast person’s signature the next day, blueEnergy can’t always bring that person, because it’s planting season or whatever, and it takes weeks before he can leave. Are we supposed to force him? We can’t do that, because that would trigger a crisis of confidence in the community and we’d no longer be welcome. People might start looking at us suspiciously. Yet by not giving immediate responses to donors that ask for them, we risk cooperation withholding its backing.” This feeds an “affected-benefited” cycle of inoperativeness in the region.

The other big problem related to international cooperation is that it sometimes limits the NGOs’ investment capacity. The money from donors is accompanied by ten pages indicating all the things that can’t be done with it and only one page about what can. These financial barriers express the less than full understanding of the profound needs of each community and the roll resources ought to play.

This misunderstanding between international cooperation and the development agents is currently one of the huge challenges that blueEnergy and many similar NGOs face in Nicaragua. Luckily, there are international development agencies and NGOs that have adapted to these contexts and provide adequate and efficient support. blueEnergy, for example, entered into a very fruitful relationship with the Dutch agency HIVOS, which specializes in empowering indigenous populations.

The biggest threat:
The agricultural frontier

The advance of the “agricultural frontier” is a serious threat that hangs over this and many other projects in the northern and southern Caribbean. The term refers to the relentless cutting down of the region’s vast rainforest by lumber companies and by peasant settlers from the Pacific who have moved steadily eastward over the decades. Guillaume explained that this phenomenon, added to the pressure from mestizo peasants who come into the RAAS through Nueva Guinea, is affecting the isolated Rama and Creole communities with which blueEnergy works, creating a climate of insecurity.

“We find ourselves asking if there’s enough security for our work, if the mestizos will respect the equipment we install in the indigenous communities or will steal the panels. It’s a serious problem, although the most serious one is that the advance of the agricultural frontier is destroying the Caribbean’s ecosystem. But at the moment there’s not much we can do to halt it,” he acknowledges.

Lack of communication
and fiscal incentives

What role does the Nicaraguan State play in this technolog¬ical and human development process blueEnergy is opting for on in the Caribbean Coast?

This is Lâl’s explanation: “What they aren’t doing, we have to do ourselves.” While the central government is facilitating some things for blueEnergy, there are two areas in which its support could be greater and have more impact.

The first is consultation and concertation in planning national development projects. Many plans are made and unmade without communicating anything to the people involved on the ground. “An example is the arrival of the national electricity grid in the municipality of Pearl Lagoon. This has had a major impact on blueEnergy’s strategic planning, because it had never been contemplated in the national rural electrification plans.”

The second relates to legislation: there’s no real tax incentive for clean energy development projects, which is a huge vacuum. In theory, exonerations are obtainable, but they involve entering into a complex fiscal labyrinth with enormous paperwork and exhausting administrative procedures. The solar panels are a good example: they have to be imported because they’re very difficult to produce locally, but only the big firms that wholesale systems get exonerated from value added tax (IVA), yet they don’t change the price for the final buyer.

Dealing with the General Income Division can also turn into a surrealist task worthy of Kafka. When one lives in Managua, fulfilling the tax institution’s requirements isn’t so difficult. Most people have an ID card and almost everyone has their invoices up to date. But things are different in the Caribbean, where everything is informal. “The DGI demands that we withhold taxes on the expenses we have with businesses that don’t even have their invoices up to date,” they moan. “We want to comply with the laws, but how do we do it?” They do it by inventing solutions.

The procedures aren’t facilitated
and the laws aren’t harmonized

The lack of fiscal incentives and other obstacles means that blueEnergy ends up paying almost double the IVA on a large part of the materials it acquires. Marandin explained in down-to-earth terms how it works: “We import some component for our systems and pay the import duty to customs. Then we bring it out to the coast and pay another tax for the transportation. And finally. we pay the IVA on the purchase. It’s a real mess. In the end, the materials cost us double their real worth, even though there is a law, Law 532, that promotes the use of renewable energies and should, in theory, exonerate blueEnergy and all other small actors working in the sector from paying IVA.” But doing the required paperwork in the two ministries plus another institution to qualify for these exonerations, and demon¬strating that the work is that of an international cooperation program, would cost blueEnergy double what it is already paying to provide its services to the community.

Only four or five lawyers in Nicaragua know the ins and outs of the imprecise, hence confusing legislation governing the renewable energy sector. These litigators are very specialized in the field, but they aren’t easy to contract. The sector’s legal and regulatory framework has to be harmonized, updated and simplified. Accompanied by legal experts, members of the new Renovables Association are doing a complete review to propose a legal framework that streamlines the energy investment and production procedures.

A positive legal measure

In Germany a legal provision appeared in the nineties that obliged the State and the electricity distributing companies to buy renewable electricity produced by any individual citizen, or a small, medium or large company at a favorable price. Known as “net metering,” this is an automatic incentive for the local production and generation of clean energy, as many want to get in on the profits from the local production of solar, hydroelectric or wind-driven energy. Any surplus energy produced beyond consumer demand is sold to the national grid, allowing people to quickly and efficiently recover their initial investment.

This system functioned very well in Germany and not so well in Spain, but in any event left many lessons learned and has been copied very successfully in several other European countries, as well as in several US states. Although no one is proposing copying this legal measure in Nicaragua, some viable aspects could be incorporated.

Establishing a “net metering” would be a major step for our country. “What is produced and what is consumed is measured in a controlled way,” explained Lâl, “and if more is produced than is consumed, the excess is sold for money or as an energy credit to the distributing company in the national grid. That way all sectors benefit and the energy produced is recycled. As we understand it, discussions about this in Nicaragua stared in October of this year.”

A land with so many unharnessed volcanoes

In the effort to produce more alternative energy, the announcement of the Brazilian-Nicaraguan Brito hydroelectric project caused alarm among Nicaraguan scientists and ecologists who saw it as a grave threat to Lake Cocibolca and the Río San Juan. The mega-project involves constructing a dam on the San Juan and another on the Río Brito, using Lake Cocibolca’s waters as a regulation reservoir to generate 250 megawatts (MW) of energy. The pressure on the national media resulting from the protests of these environmental experts led the Nicaraguan government to “freeze” the project. For the moment or definitively?

Is there a real ecological culture in the Nicaraguan population, or even the government, with respect to energy generation? Based on his experience in the Caribbean Coast, Guillaume doubts it. “There’s enormous geothermal potential in Nicaragua due to the abundance of volcanoes along the Pacific Coast, but none of it is being harnessed. We decided to focus on renewable energy sources in the Caribbean Coast, where there are no volcanoes but there is sun and wind, but we had to do arduous ecological awareness-building work in the area, staring almost from zero.”

He added that “as a member of the Renovables Association, we’re monitoring what the government has promised: to change Nicaragua’s energy grid from fossil fuels to renewable sources. We want to see that promise fulfilled, and will accompany and support that transition every way we can, convinced that it’s good and necessary for Nicaragua. Each time a decision is made that could threaten it, we’ll point it out.”

Opting for small-scale operations

blueEnergy distinguishes between small renewable energy projects and the mega-projects now underway, such as the Tumarín hydroelectric project headed up by the Brazilian company CHN in the South Caribbean, or the sugar refineries that generate energy from biomass, or the Amaya aeolic project in Rivas with its installed capacity of 63 MW using 30 2.1-MW aero-generators, which was launched by Nicaraguan, Guatemalan and US investors then bought last June by Ashmore Energy International. “The work we’re doing in the Caribbean Coast is micro- and small-scale generation with renewable sources,” Guillaume explained, “always linking energy generation to comprehensive development and environmental protection.”

Renewable energy projects are long-term ones that aren’t fully on line for at least five years. All need construction permits, measurements and important investments. Even optimistically speaking, Nicaragua’s energy grid won’t have changed until 2015 at the earliest. The transition will be gradual. Furthermore, generation based on renewable sources requires solutions that are costly to maintain. “The challenge for blueEnergy and our peers in this undertaking is to make them not only accessible, but also profitable and cheaper,” stressed the three partners.

What’s the cost of what blueEnergy does?

The individual rural community model that allows each family to illuminate its house at night and run some household appliances requires one or two 50-W solar panels. It costs roughly $500, including installation, which a coast family can only finance with credit from a micro-financing institution. Supplying electricity to a whole community or a multi-use communal center with at least a communications center and health center requires an investment of $15-20,000, which the communities where blueEnergy works don’t have the capacity to finance. “That’s why we seek international aid,” they explain.

Maintaining the system is the second phase, which becomes more costly over the years, as parts have to be changed, spare parts purchased, batteries replaced… blueEnergy’s idea is to get the community to cover the costs of its own energy service by paying for recharging the batteries. In the case of schools, the Ministry of Education could, for example, contribute a fixed monthly quota, although blueEnergy hasn’t yet managed to sell the Ministry on this idea.

Training is another challenge

How does blueEnergy train a population with the kind of limited education common in the Caribbean Coast’s rural areas? The users of community systems and people in whose homes blueEnergy has installed the system receive basic training on maintaining the batteries and the panels. It’s simple information anyone can understand. “Users don’t need to know how a solar panel is fabricated, what it’s made of or how it functions,” says Guillaume. To explain what they do need to know, blueEnergy has prepared manuals and posters using photos of indigenous people and the people’s own languages. Those who want to know more are given information from books and the Internet.

At a somewhat more demanding level, blueEnergy trains the operators of the community systems to do basic maintenance, such as installing and uninstalling a turbine; dismantling, greasing and reassembling the parts, etc. They also produced training manuals for the region’s technicians.

The final and most complex training level teaches technicians to design, install and maintain renewable systems qualified by INATEC. blueEnergy has worked for years with this state body and created a national program. It’s now waiting for INATEC to initiate the first two-year courses, with a curriculum involving 24 months of study. This year blueEnergy has gradually begun dedicating itself to participating in the National Engineering University’s Renewable Energy Masters program. Its aspiration is to connect the Caribbean with the Pacific to produce a synergy of work and communica¬tion links that can ensure profes¬sionals with human and technical quality at all levels.

“Survive, grow, spread out to Central America”

What is blueEnergy’s future, after a continuous process of overcoming obstacles, celebrating achievements and honing lessons learned? Each of them has a different answer.

“First of all, our future is to survive,” says Mathias with a sense of humor. “Survive to continue day after day in this world and keep struggling to create opportunities in the places we work. Survive to continue connecting isolated communities. We’d like to see people come out of these communities as enterprising owners of their own businesses, determined to solve their problems to get out of poverty.”

Guillaume believes blueEnergy’s future is tied to the commitment to INATEC, the central government and the universities they work with. “We want to bring more human resources, more teachers and technicians into this project, more students and volunteers willing to help. Thanks to our contacts with the University of California at Berkeley and MIT, we believe we can achieve it and serve as bridges between Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast and the rest of the world. Our desire for the future is to learn and grow as human beings.”

Lâl thinks blueEnergy’s future is to improve the communities’ sense of ownership of the equipment, and to improve the education program and technical curriculum to form people more capable of working for clean energy, always in accord with their lifestyles and environment.

“Coast people are used to seeing a lot of cheles [light-skinned foreigners] arriving to launch short-term projects that come to nothing. Our intention is to turn blueEnergy into a local support and advocacy institution. We want to accompany these communities in their growth as authentically autonomous associations. We also want to see blueEnergy disseminating this knowledge in the future to other Central American countries. We’d like to repeat the experience learned here in other communities of the region.”

William Grigsby Vergara is a social communicator.

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