blueEnergy works to create a more equitable, sustainable world


blueEnergy adds refrigeration capacity in Monkey Point

By Caroline Dehais - blueEnergy recently made a trip to Monkey Point for two key installations: the second communal freezer donated by HIVOS and the special refrigerator for vaccines donated by Renewable World. Both of the systems are powered by autonomous solar arrays with batteries donated by Trojan.

Fridge for the Health Clinic
Fridge for the health clinic in Monkey Point
The blueEnergy team departed Bluefields the morning of the 21st and thankfully the sea was quiet! The team was composed of Cindy from the social team, Ronald, Guthry, Vincent and Caroline from the technical team, and Franklin Sanchez from the MINSA, the national ministry of health.

The first task was the installation of the health center’s refrigerator, which meant attaching the solar panel to the old and corroded roof, passing the cables inside the roof, making the connections to the control panel and batteries and making all the electrical connections for the lights of the health center. The next morning we turned on the fridge and by the afternoon the temperature had dropped to the required temperature for vaccine storage.

 “When they came in December asking me if a freezer for the health center would be useful, I said yes,” Carla, the charge nurse, said. “But I thought it would never come because nothing comes to my health center. And then two weeks ago they tell me the fridge would be installed soon, I thought I was dreaming, I’m so happy to have that vaccine fridge for my community!”

Freezer for the community

Carla's house with panels installed in front
The freezer donated by HiVOS is the second installed in Monkey Point. After studying how the first freezer, a common model found in department stores, performed over nearly a year, it was decided the second freezer should be an ultra-high efficiency DC model. The system has two 135w solar panels charging four 12v 105ah Trojan maintenance-free batteries, allowing for five days autonomous use. 

The freezer now belongs to the energy commission and is being rented to Carla for about $1/day (energy commission proceeds go to maintenance of the electrical systems). Carla had submitted a business plan to blueEnergy which consisted of using the freezer to sell meat, fish and other goods. It is now located in her house which is very close to the communal house and easily accessible. 

Return to Bluefields proves difficult 

The return on Thursday afternoon was a complete adventure, although it began without any trouble. The sea was not particularly rough, but the waves became much more turbulent as we arrived at the critical point called la barra where the sea meets they bay. The tide heading out from the bay meets the swells coming in from the sea, creating big chop.

Allen steering the panga being towed in the bay
As we entered the bullseye of la barra and the waves became worrisome, the motor lost power and died. Without any forward direction, it didn't take long for the waves to turn the panga broadside and begin to break in the boat. The passengers quickly sprang into action to empty the panga anyway we could using water jugs, pots and even flip-flops. Guthry, one of the bE staff, was in the bow with the paddle trying to keep the panga facing the oncoming waves as Allen, the panga driver, struggled to start the motor. It seemed we had miscalculated the amount of gas needed; the tanks were nearly empty. Allen consolidated every drop we had which was enough to start the motor, and we made it to the calm safety of the bay.

 It was not enough to make it home, however, and about 1 km before arriving to Bluefields’s wharf, the gas was finished and we were left stranded once again. Luckily we hitched a tow to the shore from a little dory with a 2hp engine where Casey met us with a gallon of gas.

Piggott-style wind turbine conference in Dakar, Senegal

Participants of the wind-power conference in Dakar, Senegal
By Pedro Neves - For the first time in history the majority of the organizations working with Piggott-style wind turbines gathered in one place to discuss their experiences and come together to form a global association to further their efforts. The innovative conference on small wind power took place during the 2011 World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal between the 7th and 11th of February at the Cheik Anta Diop university in Dakar. Not officially part of the WSF, it was organized by CIFRES, EolSenegal and blueEnergy as an opportunity to share techniques and applications of small wind in rural communities. 

Participants view a Piggott-style turbine
The first days of the conference were dedicated to the presentation of the different organizations present. From the groundbreaking experiences of Scoraig Wind to new ventures such as I Love Windpower Mali and Tanzania, commercial experiences of SolarMad, the activism of Tripalium, the integrated support of Renewable World and the holistic experience of blueEnergy, the hardest-working names in small wind had an opportunity to corroborate. The presentation of the organizations was followed by the carving of blades and winding of coils for a small experimental penta-bladed machine. During the first days of the conference two technical discussion sessions - by Noam Dotan from COMET-ME and Pedro Neves from blueEnergy -were also held alongside an exposition by Aurore Valverde and Julie Zarka from blueEnergy on the social aspect of using small wind turbines for rural electrification. The intent of the first was to put all the organizations present sharing the problems they face and the solutions they have found for them. The second intended to share the difficulties of implementing small wind turbines without the proper social intervention.

Mbay Mbay
On the fourth day of the conference a visit to the community of Mbay Mbay allowed the participants to see one of the wind turbine systems installed by EolSenegal. Mbay Mbay is a rural community focused on agriculture, relying on diesel water pumps to irrigate the fields. Together with another Senegalese NGO, EolSenegal installed a well pump, irrigation system and associated electrical system. Currently the system is not working as there is a dispute between the ownership of the irrigated fields. Once again the social side reveals itself as a key element in rural electrification.

The presence of several organizations that work with small wind turbines was the perfect base to establish the foundations of a global association of small wind turbine organizations. Upon returning from the visit to Mbay Mbay the ideas and possible objectives of such organization were presented by Mathias Craig from blueEnergy. In the following day these objectives and ideas were further defined - sharing funding leads, sharing technical research and sharing socio-economical models. Workgroups on the practical aspects of the organization, such as the website, name and others were formed and put to work on site. This resulted in the launching of a global association. 

To close the week of conferences a round-table session on rural electrification and development was held. The round table drew upon different experiences and knowledge from different organizations such as Scoraig, Renewable World, Aja Mali, Solar Mad as well as Comet ME. This diversity motivated the expressive participation of local students and business development actors that asked questions and intervened on the topic of hybrid solar-wind rural electrification.

Hugh Piggott's visit to bE in 2008

We invite you to get a little nostalgic and visit Hugh Piggott's photo album and account of his visit to blueEnergy Nicaragua way back in 2008. It was a great time and we learned a lot from his visit!

Jono, Seb, Hugh, Clem, Loic, Mathias and Olivier...the dream team!


Evolutions in our impact model (Part 1 of 4)

blueEnergy was born out a commitment to a place, the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua. This commitment to place implied the need for a flexible model that could adapt to the context. This is a fundamentally different approach than many organizations take where they develop a product or service and then go find the right “market” to implement it in.
By Mathias Craig - So what is the context of this place?  Communities in this region are extremely isolated and poor, but more significantly than that, they tend to lack most basic services like electricity, roads, clean water, communication, financing, etc.  These are the very services that entrepreneurs rely on and leverage to launch their ventures in market based economies and even poor, “edge of the market” or Bottom of the Pyramid communities.  But here, without these services, entrepreneurialism is stifled.  So the question is, how do you get things started in a place like this so that people can help themselves?
To make a long story short, blueEnergy started off as a wind power organization, building and installing energy systems on the Caribbean Coast.  To be sure, we did a lot of training and discussing with communities, but our focus was on the technology.  As our understanding of the context of this place deepened, it became clear that to have a real impact, we would need to broaden into energy services, meaning that in addition to energy production, we needed to get into energy management and end-use of the energy.  Because of the context you couldn’t make the assumption that energy in = productive use out because so many links of the chain are missing.
After a couple more years, we looked around and saw that we had invested so much in relationships, infrastructure and processes in order to reach out to the most remote, marginalized communities.  It didn’t make sense to make this investment and to be positioned as the “last 40 miles” (a la “last mile) service provider to these communities and limit ourselves to just energy.  Better to leverage our up-front investment to create impact in the same communities in other areas such as clean water.  In the end, system change requires a combination of services, not just one alone.
We had evolved into a holistic community development organization, using renewable energy and clean water, along with other services, as a way to stimulate local entrepreneurship.
But employing a holistic model in extremely harsh conditions has implications: for one, your work moves slowly.  Everything is based on relationships and they don’t scale well.  Also, the culture is not used to rapid change, so that limits how fast you can move forward.  Finally, moving forward in these conditions, even slowly, is very resource intensive.
Our impact was growing, but mostly in the depth dimension.  We shunned “community hopping” and focused on creating fundamental, deep change in a modest sized group of people (about 3,000 in 2010).  But it’s hard to measure depth of impact, while it’s easy to measure number of beneficiaries, so our impact is sometimes harder to see.  It’s easy to distribute a container full of solar lights and claim you have “impacted” 10,000 people; it’s a lot harder to work with people to understand their culture, develop joint plans, build infrastructure and work to link this infrastructure to life-changing activities.  The latter approach, the one used by blueEnergy on Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, produces a good resource / ”depth impact” ratio but a bad resource / “number of people impacted” ratio, which is the one most understood by people.
The need for growth that could easily be understood by people (ie. number of beneficiaries) could be felt everywhere, from the staff to the co-founders to the funders to the general public.  With our commitment to our “depth impact” model on the Caribbean Coast and the fact that the context of this place constrained our “number of beneficiaries” growth to be organic, we asked ourselves how we could scale our impact in other ways.
In our most recent evolution, in 2010, we recognized that we were having impacts outside of the most marginalized communities and that we had a role to play on larger stages where we could grow our impact very cost effectively, primarily through two mechanisms – imitation and movement building.
To be continued in Part 2.

Evoluciones dentro de nuestro modelo de impacto

blueEnergy nació de un compromiso en un lugar concreto, la Costa Atlántica de Nicaragua. Este compromiso requirió una flexibilidad del modelo para permitir adaptarse al contexto local. Esto es un enfoque fundamentalmente diferente al de muchas otras organizaciones que primero desarrollan un producto o un servicio y luego buscan un “mercado” adaptado donde implementarlo.
Por Mathias Craig (traducción Hervé Chavagnon) – Cuál es el contexto de este lugar ? Las comunidades de esta región son extremadamente aisladas y pobres, pero aún más grave, carecen de acceso a la mayoría de los servicios básicos como la electricidad, las carreteras, el agua potable, las telecomunicaciones y el financiamiento.  Sin embargo, estos son los servicios sobre los cuales los emprendedores se basan y que valoran para poder montar su empresa en un contexto de economía de mercado, incluso en las comunidades pobres que se encuentran abajo en la pirámide económica y en margen del mercado.  Pero allí, el espíritu empresarial se encuentra ahogado por la ausencia de servicios básicos. La pregunta es entonces como arrancar la máquina económica del desarrollo para que las poblaciones puedan satisfacer sus necesidades?
Para resumir lo que ya es una larga historia, blueEnergy empezó como una organización especializada en energía eólica, construyendo e instalando sistemas de energía en la Costa Atlántica. Hemos organizado muchas formaciones y discusiones con las comunidades pero estábamos enfocados en la tecnología.  A medida que nuestro entendimiento del contexto local iba mejorando y profundizando, empezaba a estar claro que para tener un impacto real, era preciso desarrollar los servicios derivados de la energía. De tal manera que además de la producción de energía, debíamos también implicarnos en la gestión de la energía y sus usos.  Por el contexto, no era posible afirmar que energía en entrada = uso productivo en salida porque faltaban muchos eslabones en la cadena.
Después de dos años más de trabajo y mirando a nuestro alrededor, veíamos toda la cantidad de esfuerzos realizados en el desarrollo de relaciones, infraestructura y procesos para alcanzar las comunidades más aisladas y marginalizadas.  Y no tenía sentido hacer toda esta inversión para estar cerca de las comunidades aun estando lejos, y limitar nuestro servicio a la producción de energía.  Era al contrario más juicioso capitalizar nuestra inversión ya realizada y procurar multiplicar sus efectos con el fin de crear impacto en las mismas comunidades pero en otros sectores que la energía como por ejemplo el agua potable.  Al fin y al cabo, un cambio del sistema requiere el desarrollo de una combinación de servicios, no de uno solo.
Habíamos evolucionado hacia una organización de desarrollo comunitario con enfoque integral, usando las energías renovables y el agua potable en conjunto con otros servicios para estimular los esfuerzos empresariales locales.
Pero emplear semejante modelo de desarrollo integral en condiciones tan difíciles tiene implicaciones: por una parte, el trabajo avanza lentamente. Todo está basado en las relaciones que se han podido desarrollar, las cuales siempre forman una red incompleta.  La cultura también tiende a frenar los cambios demasiado rápidos, lo que limita la velocidad a la cual se puede avanzar.  Finalmente, avanzar incluso lentamente en estas condiciones consume muchos recursos.
Nuestro impacto iba creciendo, ganando en profundidad.  Evitábamos las acciones puntuales e intervenciones discontinuas para enfocarnos en la creación de un cambio continuo y en profundidad en grupos de gente de tamaño modesto (aproximadamente 3000 en 2010).  Pero es difícil medir la profundidad de impacto, mientras es fácil medir el número de beneficiarios, por eso nuestro impacto es a veces más difícil de apreciar. Es por ejemplo fácil distribuir un container lleno de lámparas solares y proclamar 10,000 personas “impactadas”; pero es mucho más difícil trabajar mano en la mano con gente para entender su cultura, desarrollar  proyectos en conjunto, construir una infraestructura y vincularla con actividades que cambian la vida de estas personas.  Este último enfoque, el que es utilizado por blueEnergy en la Costa Atlántica de Nicaragua, da una buena relación recurso / ”profundidad de impacto” pero una mala relación recurso / “nombre de personas impactadas”, que sin embargo es la que más fácilmente entiende la mayoría de la gente.
De la misma manera, la necesidad de un crecimiento a nivel de  la organización que sea facilmente comprensible por la gente (es decir en número de beneficiarios) podía sentirse por todas partes, desde el personal de la organización pasando por los cofundadores y los donantes hasta el  público en general. Nuestro compromiso para un modelo de “impacto profundo” en la Costa Atlántica junto con el hecho que el contexto particular de este lugar restrinja el crecimiento de nuestro “número de beneficiarios” a ser de tipo orgánico nos empujaron a preguntarnos de que otras maneras podríamos extender nuestro impacto y llevarlo a mayor escala.
Durante la última fase de nuestra evolución, en 2010, hemos podido observar que teníamos diferentes tipos de impacto afuera de las comunidades más marginalizadas, y que también teníamos un papel importante que jugar en ámbitos más amplios donde podríamos desarrollar nuestro impacto a menor costo y eso a través de dos mecanismos – la imitación y la construcción del movimiento.
Seguirá en la segunda parte.

Evolutions dans notre modèle d’impact

blueEnergy est née d’un engagement dans un lieu précis, la Côte Caribéenne du Nicaragua. Cet engagement a demandé une flexibilité du modèle afin de permette de s’adapterau contexte local. Ceci est une approche fondamentalement différente de celle de beaucoup d’autres organisations qui développentun produit ou un service et cherchent ensuite un “marché” adapté pour l’y implémenter.
Par Mathias Craig – Quel est donc le contexte de cet endroit? Les communautés dans cette région sont extrêmement isoléeset pauvres, mais encore plus grave, l’accès à la plupart des services basiquescomme l’électricité, les routes, l’eau potable, les télécommunications etle financement font cruellement défaut.  Ceux-ci sont les services en particulier sur lesquels les entrepreneurs se reposent et qu’ils valorisent pour pouvoir lancer  leur entreprise dans un contexte d’économie de marché, et même dans des communautés pauvres tout en bas de la pyramide économique eten marge du marché.  Mais là-bas, l’entreprenariat est étouffé sans ces services basiques. La question est donc de savoir comment lancer la machine du développement économique afin que les populations puissent elles-mêmes subvenir à leurs besoins?
Pour résumer rapidement ce qui est déjà une longue histoire, blueEnergya débuté comme une organisation spécialisée dans l’éolien, en construisant et installantdes systèmes d’énergie sur la Côte Caraïbe. Nous avons organisé de nombreuses formations et discussions avec les communautésmais étions focalisés sur la technologie.  Au fur et à mesure que notre compréhension ducontexte local s’approfondissait, il devenait clair que pour avoir un réel impact, nous aurions besoin d’élargir les services dérivés de l’énergie. De telle manière qu’en plus de la production d’énergie, nous devrions aussi nous impliquer dans la gestion de l’énergie et ses usages.  En raison du contexte il n’était pas possible de supposer que énergieen entrée = usage productif en sortie parce que beaucoup de maillons de la chaine sont manquants.
Après encore deux ans, en regardant autour de nous nous voyions la quantité inimaginable d’efforts dépensés dans le développement de relations, infrastructure et procédés afin d’atteindre les communautés les plus isolées et marginalisées.  Cela n’avait pas de sens de faire tout cet investissement pour être le dernier camp détachéau plus près et pourtant encore loin de ces communautés, et de limiter notre service à la production d’énergie.  Il était au contraire plus judicieux de capitaliser notre investissement déjà réalisé et d’en démultiplier ses effets afin de créer de l’impact dans les mêmes communautés dans d’autres secteurs que l’énergie comme par exemple l’eau potable.  En fin de compte, un changement du système requiertune combinaison de services, pas un seul isolé.
Nous avions évolué vers une organisation de développement communautaire avec une approche intégrale, utilisant les énergies renouvelableset l’eau potable conjointement avec d’autres services de manière à stimuler l’entreprenariat local.
Mais employerun modèle de développement  intégralsemblable dans des conditions aussi difficilesa des implications: d’une part, votre travail avance lentement. Tout est basé sur les relations que vous avez tissées, lesquellesforment toujours une toile incomplète.  La culture aussi tend à vouloir freiner les changements trop rapides, ce qui limite la vitesse à laquelle vous pouvez avancer.  Finalement, avancer même lentement dans ces conditions consomme beaucoup de vos ressources.
Notre impact allait en grandissant, gagnant en profondeur.  Nous évitions les actions ponctuelles et interventions en dent de scie pour nous focaliser sur la créationd’un changement continu en profondeur chez des groupes de gens de taille modeste (environ 3000 en 2010).  Mais il est difficile de mesurer la profondeur d’impact, alors qu’il est aisé de mesurer le nombre de bénéficiaires, c’est pourquoi notre impact est parfois plus difficile à apprécier. Il est par exemple facile de distribuerun conteneur rempli de lampes solaireset de proclamer 10000 personnes “impactées”; il est en revanche beaucoup plus difficile de travailler main dans la main avec des gens pour comprendre leur culture, développer des projets conjoints, construire une infrastructure et la relier à des activités qui changent la vie de ces gens.  Cette dernière approche, celle utilisée parblueEnergysur la Côte Caribéenne du Nicaragua, donne un bonrapport ressource / ”profondeur d’impact” mais un mauvais rapport ressource / “nombre de personnes impactées”, qui est pourtant celui qui est le plus facilement compris par la plupart des gens.
De la même manière, le besoin d’une croissance au niveau de l’organisation facilement compréhensible par les gens (c’est-à-dire du nombrede bénéficiaires) pouvait être ressentie de tous côtés, depuis le personnel de l’organisation en passant par les co-fondateurs et les donateurs jusqu’au  public général.  Notre engagement pour un modèle “d’impact profond” sur la Côte Caribéenneetle fait que le contexte particulier de cet endroitcontraigne la croissance de notre “nombrede bénéficiaires” à rester organique nous ont poussés à nous demander de quelles autres manières nous pourrions étendre à plus grande échelle notre impact.
Durant la dernière phase de notreévolution, en 2010, nous avons observé que nous avions différents types d’impacten dehors des communautés les plus marginalisées, et que nous avions aussi un rôle à jouer dans des domaines plus vastes où nous pourrions développer notre impact à moindre coût, et ce à travers deux mécanismes – l’imitation et la construction du mouvement.
A suivre dans ladeuxième partie.