LAS MUJERES SOLARES DE TOTOGALPA
The Solar Women of Totogalpa were born out of the initial PV workshop started by Grupo Fenix in rural municipality of Totogalpa in 1999. Alongside the solar panels, the group had also brought a few rudimentary solar cookers – an invention that immediately sparked an interest with the women of the community. Before long, the women had learned how to build their own cookers and started experimenting with the design and adapting the cookers for their own specific uses. By 2003, the women had organized into a local group taking the name from the very source of their new endeavor – the sun itself. In 2010, the group became an official Nicaraguan cooperative – Cooperativa Multi-Sectorial Mujeres Solares de Totogalpa.
The idea of the solar cookers is not to replace traditional wood stoves entirely, but rather to decrease the dependency of this finite energy source in everyday life, impacting not just the environment but also the health of the women themselves, as the smoke caused by traditional cooking over open fire is the number one source of death among rural Nicaraguan women.
Today, The Solar Women consists of 20 women who have made it their calling and job to construct, repair and sell solar ovens to rural Nicaraguan communities. Over time, other renewable technologies and products have been incorporated into the work of the group, giving rise to the formation of other local groups and perpetuating the positive effect of solar energy on the community.
In the early days of the group, one local woman – Dona Cristina – discovered how low quality coffee vastly improved when roasted in the Solar Oven. As most of the high quality coffee produced in Nicaragua is destined for export, what is left are the bitter green beans for domestic use. By roasting these in a solar oven rather than over open fire, the bitterness mellowed into a rich and delicious flavor – completely unique. With this and other culinary discoveries, the women began to dream of a restaurant to show case their newfound skills – a dream that was realized with the opening of La Casita Solar – the first restaurant in Nicaragua run entirely on green energy.
Jovenes Pedalando Hacia el Futuro
Young People Pedalling Towards the Future are an enterprising, non-profit group of young people with the purpose to support the development of the community of Sabana Grande, Totogalpa, and the surrounding areas across the promotion of the culture, innovative technology, sport and rural community tourism. They are driven by the principals of; community participation, respect the environment, and human values.
The objective of JPHF is to help the young people of the community obtain better planning and organisation. To carry out recreational activities with young people to encourage their future chances. To empower the young people in current subjects (IT, economics, social and cultural) in order to function efficiently in the field of work.
Promotores Solares Agro-Ecological
The Solar Mountain is a mission centered on a piece of land in Sabana Grande, about 35 acres in size, about a fourth of which is flat and the rest mountainside. The land was purchased with a mandate to provide a space to show how humans can make a living while still putting more into the land than they take out of it.
From around the 1960’s until the 1980’s the hillsides in Nicaragua were cut and burned for planting corn and hay for cattle. During Hurricane Mitch in 1998, large landslides devastated sections of the slopes, and planting only continued on the flat land. In 2006, the land was purchased and that same year an international NGO planted around 14,000 trees, requesting a commitment to preserve it as a green lung for the community. In 2010, a grant was received through Grupo Fénix from Chalmers University in Sweden. The grant focused on developing a reforestation program that also focused on diminishing deforestation. Its goals are to respond to two of the major sources of deforestation in the area; cutting firewood for cooking and expansion of the agricultural frontier.
With the Chalmers’ grant a new local work group was formed, The Agro-Ecological Solar Promoters (PSAE), allowing Grupo Fénix to work with more members of the community and to compliment the already established work of the Solar Women of Totogalpa, and the PV workshop AceSol. Incentives are a small daily stipend and credits called “Soles” with which members are able to buy renewable energy and sustainable items in the Solar Store.
In January 2012 a natural building course was held at the Solar Mountain, led by Liz Johndrow from Earthen Endevours and Nancy Bernstein to build an Aula Natural Ecogolico – a Natural Classroom. This is used for PSAE meeting, English classes and as a capacity building for groups within the Solar Community. The vision is that the Natural Classroom will also serve as a space for after-school programs for local children and as an education space where PSAE will offer workshops on the technologies they have become skilled in.
Ongoing projects include:
- Annually planting four to five thousand saplings from their own nursery in the deforested mountainous area.
- Planting organic beans, corn and vegetables.
- Creating large amounts of organic compost to enrich the soil, which means it will improve with use instead of being damaged by the use of chemicals.
- Producing its own organic fertilizer and insect repellent.
- Developing a fruit orchard with a large variety of fruits.
- A solar powered drip irrigation system, installed in May 2010 with the help of the University of Dayton and the Chalmers’ grant, allows the project to continue its work in the dry season.
- Dry ECO-Latrines
ACESol PV Workshop
The ACESol PV module workshop was started in Sabana Grande in 1999 as part of a program funded by the Canadian government’s CIDA program to rehabilitate landmine victims and give them a livelihood. The workshop has assembled and installed over 100 systems to date and now has a list of clients that include many private farmers and businessmen as well as rural health clinics, village centers and other community projects.
With the skills and expertise of Dr. Richard Kimp, Grupo Fenix trained interested members of the community of Sabana Grande how to build PV panels and install PV systems in the hope of building a cottage industry. Over the years ACESol has built and installed various systems - the majority of those being in the community of Sabana Grande but also including Honduras and Costa Rica.
Some of the difficulties ACESol are experiencing include not being able to compete in price with other solar businesses that import their panels from abroad, and not being able to apply for electrification grants or projects offered by NGOs and local government offices as the panels are not certified.
This has led the workshop to expand in diversify in different ways. At the moment one of ACESol's main projects is the solar production of distilled water, which is needed to maintain the battery in the PV system. Other projects that are being worked on or are planned for the future include:
- Training young people in the solar community how to both build and install the PV systems.
- Give annual workshops on good use and maintenance of PV systems to users in the solar community.
- Market their products at the national level.
- Offer workshops to train people to become PV installers.
- Offer introduction courses to PV systems and installations.
The current services ACESol offers are:
- Solar Battery Chargers
- PV Panels from 5 to 60 watts
- Installation of PV systems
- Repair and maintenance of PV panels and entire systems.
- Solar distilled water for batteries.