blueEnergy works to create a more equitable, sustainable world


Another Successful Wind Turbine Workshop at Midland High School

By Andreas Karelas - In early April a team of three blueEnergy educators taught a wind energy workshop to the Sophomore class at Midland High School near Los Olivos, California.

Midland is a unique treasure. This boarding school for grades 9-12 immerses students in the real world, where they work the land, they build with their hands, and they even build fires to heat their showers. The school was founded on the principle of self-reliance, and teaches students to discern the difference between their needs and wants. It was an incredible group of students to work with.

Mathias Craig, a Midland graduate, Christian Casillas and myself, who had taught a workshop at Midland last year, were delighted to be invited back. All of us have experience building wind turbines with blueEnergy in Nicaragua, and were thrilled to be able to pass on the knowledge to a group of interested youth. We packed up the car in Berkeley with boards of Douglass Fir, coils of copper wire, extremely powerful magnets, and an arsenal of woodworking tools.

When we arrived, the students began a three day immersion into the world of small scale wind turbines. We began with an introductory discussion to explain the parts of a wind turbine, how it generates power, and how it is designed. We were fortunate to be joined by Jamie Seborer, Mathias’sclassmate, who helped photograph the workshop.

In the workshop is where the real fun began. Students honed their skills on scrap boards using tools such as the drawknife, hammer and chisel, plane, grater, and file. Midland students in small teams were excited to get started. They measured and chiseled away at their boards, carving what would be fine wind turbine blades out of big blocks of wood.

During the workshop students also learned about the electrical generation components of the wind turbine. We coiled copper wire and soldered the coils together to make a three phase generating stator. We learned how to arrange magnets on the rotor that would cause electric current to flow in the copper coils when the wind turbine spins. Once we’d assembled the various components, the students did a great job of presenting what they worked on and how all the parts function together.
Andreas and the coil winding team
Our last discussion focused on the work blueEnergy does in Nicaragua and the intricacies of bringing clean energy and water to underserved communities. Christian led the students in a board game he developed while working in Nicaragua to help fisherman identify opportunities to improve their livelihoods. The students had a blast. We finished the workshop with a party on their farm with delicious pizza made fresh in their brick oven.

The faculty and students of The Midland School were an amazing group of people with whom to spend a few days, and for the three of us coming from the Bay Area, it was a special treat to be out on the farm. Led by a student, the three of us ventured up Midland’s famous Grass Mountain for an early hike on our last day before the drive home.

The workshop was an all-around success and I think Midland, and blueEnergy alike, are looking forward to another one next year.

You can see pictures from the workshop here (courtesy of Jamie Seborer).


Intern alumni teaching what she learned with blueEnergy

By Ashley Ciglar -- Engineers Without Borders USA, Santa Clara University Student Chapter is implementing a bio-sand filter pilot project in northern Honduras in a rural village called El Pital. The project will help determine if in-house or community wide potable water treatment will be used for a community water distribution system.

 In August/September 2012 a group Santa Clara University students and professional mentors will travel to El Pital to teach community members how to use and maintain bio-sand filters that were donated to community members by Rotary International two years prior. Nearly all the community members who have a bio-sand filter don’t use it properly resulting in a fear to use them. Students will teach members of the community water board how to use the filters in their household. The water board members will then be required to teach another family how to use the water filter and those families will teach another until all families in El Pital have been trained. Students will visit annually and communicate through email periodically to monitor the project. Additionally, community workshops about health, hygiene, sanitation, and the water cycle will be taught. 

EWB and water board members from the community of El Pital standing in front of the water tank
The current president of the Santa Clara University Student Chapter, Ashley Ciglar, first learned about bio-sand filters when she volunteered for blueEnergy in June/July 2010. This previous experience with bio-sand filters led to Ashley's idea of the pilot project for the chapter. Find out more about the SCU chapter of Engineers Without Borders at

Ashley (far left) and other bE interns with family in Rama Cay


Implementing water filters, but how well do they work?

By Jayne Richards -- Household biosand water filters form a core component of blueEnergy’s water and sanitation program and almost 200 filters have been installed in Bluefields and surrounding communities in the Región Autónoma del Atlántico Sur (RAAS) over the last three years. These filters definitely work in laboratory trials and have been proven to work in various studies abroad. But how effective are these filters in Bluefields, and are blueEnergy’s beneficiaries actually using them properly?

These are some of the questions that blueEnergy’s Vladymir Pao and Jayne Richards are currently trying to answer.

Jayne interviewing a beneficiary in Kahkabila about the use and maintenance of his biosand filter
For the past three months Vladymir and Jayne have been visiting blueEnergy’s biosand water filter beneficiaries to study the social uptake and use of the filters as well as their filtration efficiency. The project forms an important part of the follow up of the Water and Sanitation Team’s work and is funded by Christadelphian Meal a Day. The project includes detailed surveys to determine the use, maintenance and perception of the filters, as well as water quality analysis to determine their technical efficiency.

Vladymir, originally from Bonanza in the north-east of Nicaragua, and a graduate of Ecology from the Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University (BICU), runs the social component of blueEnergy’s Water and Sanitation Program. Jayne, an Environmental Engineer from Australia has been volunteering in the Water and Sanitation Team since November 2011, working on this project as well as blueEnergy’s sanitation program.
Vladymir and incubated water samples from Bluefields
To date, the study has found that the groundwater wells in Bluefields typically have very high levels of faecal coliform contamination. This indicates contamination from latrines or animal faeces and represents a risk to human health if consumed without treatment. The filtered water has typically been found to have zero, or a very low level of contamination, even when there is significant contamination in the source water, thus providing a safe drinking water source for our beneficiaries.

“This study is very useful to blueEnergy," says Vladymir. "It will provide us with extensive baseline data on the distribution and severity of groundwater contamination in Bluefields and two surrounding communities, as well as a greater understanding of what our beneficiaries think of their filters and how they are actually using them. The results of the water quality analysis also allow us to tell our beneficiaries with confidence that their filters are working very effectively and give them more confidence in the technology."

“In Bluefields," Jayne says, "we are finding that the filters are very effective at treating contaminated water but we are also finding some cases of re-contamination after the filtration. This re-contamination is likely due to poor hygiene practices, and highlights the need to continue to promote important hygiene messages during follow up visits after the beneficiary’s initial training session.”

Vladymir and Jayne counting the bacterial colonies in incubated water samples
The project has also enabled blueEnergy to purchase a high quality mobile microbial and physico–chemical water testing kit. This kit will be useful for a range of the Water and Sanitation team’s projects, including testing the water quality from our Baptist wells, biosand water filters as well as water quality testing in remote communities.

Measuring the turbidity of filtered water in Kahkabila
The study will continue until late 2012 and is expected to provide blueEnergy with useful information on the most appropriate implementation model for future biosand filter projects as well as important technical data.

Stay tuned to BlueNews to find out the final results of this study later this year!


Installing a biodigester in the wee hours

This has been cross-posted from MIT's CoLab Radio blog.

By Angela Hojnacki -- After two weeks of researching and planning several waste management strategies for the municipality of Bluefields, the “Biodigestors” team, stayed an extra week to implement a small-scale biodigester. A biodigester is machine that processes organic waste, like food and animal waste, into methane, a gas used for cooking. The ‘team’ is a subset of students from the D-Lab Waste class who studied biodigestion all semester and completed this project to earn grad credit. We built the biodigester in partnership with blueEnergy, an NGO based in Bluefields that implements wind and solar energy projects along the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, and Colon, a local high school. more at CoLab Radio

Biodigester at Colon High School in Bluefields


Meaningful Impact from a Service Learning Trip

By John Bowman -- I came into this weeklong internship questioning whether I could make a meaningful impact. I was short on time, with only a single week allotted by Duke University for spring break, and short on relevant experience or expertise, despite my fascination with solar energy and international development. Furthermore, I spoke minimal Spanish and absolutely no Creole English. My interest in solar energy and its role in economic empowerment stemmed from a two-week internship with a social business in Guatemala. The company sources small solar-powered devices to rural communities, and I was interested to see how a nonprofit’s approach to solar power differed from that of a business.

My experience began with a tour of Bluefields. I slurped a tamarindo, a juice made from a locally grown fruit, from a plastic bag while exploring Bluefields’ many barrios, or neighborhoods, visiting its pier, and wandering through a local market replete with fruits and plants with which I was entirely unfamiliar. Following the tour I attended a distinctly Nicaraguan baseball game with blueEnergy’s staff that pitted “The Coast”—the Caribbean coast’s only baseball team—against one of its many Pacific rivals. The atmosphere was electric; fans cheered loudly only a few meters from the players while reggae music blared. The game concluded in thrilling but disappointing fashion, with the crowd chanting “Si se puede” as the Coast’s star player hit a slew of foul balls at the bottom of the ninth, with loaded bases, two outs, and a full count before grounding out. The next day I trekked to a finca, a small farm in the middle of Nicaraguan jungle, hefting a sack of compost through the jungle while enjoying scenic views of the surrounding forest.

I spent the first half of my week learning both about blueEnergy and about solar power in general. I learned about how blueEnergy marries praxis and policy to deliver renewable energy and clean water to Nicaragua’s poor, collaborating with a conglomerate of renewable energy providers to push for policy reform while implementing its own solar systems in rural communities. Part of the hope of installing solar panels, as I learned, is that the implementation of this very modern technology will in fact preserve the traditional family unit and agricultural lifestyle. The light provided by the solar panels will allow children to study at the rural homes of their parents instead of being forced to remain in cities in order to have access to the electricity necessary to do their homework. I spent several hours in the workshop preparing for the installation by constructing a battery box, painting it, and attempting to master the basics of solar power in preparation for the installation that would take place later in the week.

The day of the installation, I left in the morning with two other blueEnergy volunteers, taking with us a pair of boxes full of supplies, a toolbox, a pair of solar panels, and a heavy battery. After arriving in Kukra Hill, a town near the home where the installation would take place, we boarded a bus that took our supplies and us directly to the home. There the elderly couple that owned the home and a menagerie of animals greeted us. The house was a model of sustainable development, already sporting a biodigester and a compost bin, and the couple were gracious hosts, cooking us meals while we worked, telling us stories in Creole while we ate, helping us whenever given the chance, and letting us spend the night in their home after the installation was finished. Though my inability to speak Creole limited the extent to which I could interact with the family, I left the installation with a deeper understanding of blueEnergy’s work. It had been one thing to learn about blueEnergy’s general approach to sustainable development, about how solar panels work and how to strip wires, but meeting the family put a human face to sustainable development. Having witnessed their hospitality and excitement to have light, I could appreciate the impact of blueEnergy on a different level.

John (center) with family in Rocky Point

So at the end of one week, I do feel like an impact has been made. But while I consider the installation of the solar panel a substantial part of the impact of this week, the more meaningful impact had been the impact of Nicaragua and blueEnergy on me. I experienced the culture of Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast in ways that the typical scuba diving, beach-going tourist would not. I sampled local cuisine made from scratch by two local women (affectionately dubbed “the mamas” by blueEnergy staff) and visited a museum housing relics of Bluefields’ past, including the throne of a Rama King. I experienced the finca and reveled in the baseball game. I picked up some more Spanish and learned just a “likky” bit of Creole. More important than the cultural experience, I gained a greater appreciation for blueEnergy’s work by learning about the organization and meeting both the people who do its work and for whom its work is done. Most importantly, working with blueEnergy inspired me and challenged me to continue to think critically about sustainable development and to continue to seek out experiences in the developing world like this one.


Training time with blueEnergy: How we built a windturbine

By Gaetan Russo -- During two weekends, blueEnergy gathered fifteen people together in order to build a wind turbine, which was a smaller model of the wind turbine blueEnergy builds in Nicaragua.

The principal idea of this training was that we started with raw materials and built the wind turbine step by step, this was not only an assembly of the different parts of the wind turbine but also the building of these parts before their assembly.

The different parts of the wind turbine and its construction:

A wind turbine is composed of different parts. The first one is the blades, which are made from three blocks of wood which we measured, cut and polished with different tools.
Carving a blade
The second part of the wind turbine is the rotor-stator system. This system converts the rotation of the blades into electric current. The rotor is composed of eight magnets and the stator by eight coils. The coils were made by winding 140 turns of copper wire. After, both the stator and rotor were set within resin during one day. They were then removed from the mold. Then, the reels and the magnets were protected.

The followed part is the electronic part, which was to change the alternate current into direct current: we did some micro-welding with electronic component (diodes).

The body of the wind turbine was built by putting together several metallic tubes by arc-welding, which illustrates that this training offered us the opportunity to do activities which we don’t practice usually.

The benefits of this training for blueEnergy and us:

This training is the opportunity for blueEnergy to illustrate one of their activities in Nicaragua. It sensitizes people and highlights the activities of blueEnergy. More generally, the permits to people to discover the organization.

Explaining the rotor
For people it was the chance to work together, to meet others and to build something with their hands in a lively atmosphere.

I invite you to join us during the next training in France: April 21st and 22nd!

For more information, please contact Emilie Etienne at