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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Solar Energy.

Itapipoca, District of Marinheiro, BRAZIL

SELF joined forces in 1996 with the Institute for Sustainable Development and Renewable Energy (IDER) to carry out a Solar Home System (SHS) pilot project in the State of Ceará, located in northeast Brazil. IDER is a non-profit NGO based in Fortaleza, Brazil that promotes renewable energy. The project focused on five main objectives:

1) delivering solar energy to a rural area
2) stimulating the creation of renewable energy cooperatives through revolving funds or other systems of credit that would facilitate the acquisition and maintenance of SHS
3) encouraging additional projects with the productive use of energy that will increase the income of rural families
4) engaging local communities by offering technical and managerial training and
5) respecting cultural and environmental integrity.

SELF and IDER selected the small coastal settlement of Macei to launch a pilot project. Working with the Community Association of Macei (ASCIMA), a cooperative that serves 520 families living in eleven small communities in the settlement of Macei (located in the municipality of Itapipoca, District of Marinheiro), SELF and IDER initially electrified fifty homes. Macei presented itself as a "model" community for a SHS project due to the proven commitment of its people in retaining their property rights after a Brazilian company purchased their lands. This struggle served to increase the population's sense of long-term ownership of their individual property as well as a sense of commitment towards community improvement.

The main source of income for the local population is derived from agriculture, cattle breeding, and fishing as well as production of local crafts. The region produces three main crops: beans, cassava, and coconut. SELF and IDER fostered technical sustainability of this project by providing key locals with in-depth training in the basics of photovoltaic theory as well in SHS design, installation, and maintenance. Training courses were carried out just prior to and during the installation period of the project's first fifty solar home systems.

Each SHS consisted of a single "Unikit-3," manufactured by United Solar Systems in Troy, Michigan. Each Unikit has a rated power output of 44Wp, plus a sealed, deep-cycle battery with a capacity of 80 Ü 100 amp-hours. Accessories for the kits included fuses, screws, and cables. Spare parts including 22Wp modules, batteries, charge controllers, lamp fixtures, 7W and 9W compact florescent bulbs, and two wiring and mounting sets were included for future needs.

Utilizing a revolving credit fund owned and managed by ASCIMA, the end-users purchased their $480 solar home systems by making a 10% down payment of $48.00 followed by monthly installments of $12.60 for a period of four years. Participants in this project were given the option of reducing their monthly installments to $11.90 by making an initial down payment of $72.00, or $11.20 monthly payments with a 20% down payment of $96.00. All funds earned are used to finance additional solar home systems for the community as well as to provide local management of the project.

The pilot project proved successful. Almost two years after the project implementation, IDER verified its local acceptance by the community by following up on the continued satisfaction of the end-users with their SHS and the low default rate of monthly payments. An additional thirty-eight families have requested SHS and have agreed to the revolving credit terms. The SHS owners noted that they desired to continue improving on the quality and size of their SHS, and many end-users noted health benefits as a major motivation to promote SHS to others. They reported improvements in various areas of health, such as asthma, bronchitis, fatigue, etc. due to the elimination of diesel and kerosene fumes previously used to fuel oil lamps. "after the installation of that energy system never again I had fatigue. I had horrible crises of lack of air, that only passed when I went to the hospital"

SELF believes that this project clearly demonstrates that rural families without access to grid electricity in Brazil can afford and are willing to pay for their own Solar Home Systems, provided that short-term financing and consumer credit are made available to them. Under the direction of IDER, the end-users are completely comfortable with the use of and care for their new SHS and now enjoy the freedom that solar powered lighting brings to their lives. There are an additional 35 million people in Brazil living without electricity. Given additional financial resources, SELF is anxious to bring photovoltaic technology to every village!

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