blueEnergy works to create a more equitable, sustainable world


Installing a Solar powered Cell Phone Tower in TikTik Kaanu, a Rama Indian community

By John Reinke -- On Tuesday morning, May 8th, our team of three installers and one observer headed south from Bluefields on board a high speed panga. We were en route to TikTik Kaanu, a Rama Indian community located on the banks of the Rio Kukra, several miles south of Bluefields and upriver from the sea. Our cargo consisted of all of the components needed to install a solar powered cell phone tower.

The installation team was composed of blueEnergy's chief engineer Jorge Lopez, his assistant Alex Blyath and engineer Fausto Perez Valdivia from Telcor, the Telecommunications and Mail Institute of Nicaragua. TikTik Kaanu is actually 20-year old Alex's home, and his father Balbino is the patriarch of the community. Alex speaks creole English as well as Spanish. He was my "go to guy", whenever my limited Spanish was insufficient for good communication.

Upon arrival, we hauled the equipment up the river bank to a nearby thatched roof residence and shed, which was built up off the ground. Without further ado, the team immediately set about determining the strongest spot for signal reception, such that it would also be in close proximity to the shed. The shed would house the control panel and battery backup, as well as the GSM pay phone that would be used to make phone calls to the rest of Nicaragua and Central America.

Jorge (l) and Fausto (r) check signal strength

The best location was ultimately determined to be a few meters from the side of the shed away from the river. After attaching the antenna to the top of the 6 meter mast and the solar panel two meters below it, the entire structure was hoisted into a vertical position and then threaded into a foot square metal support base that had previously been sunk into the ground. This was accomplished with the aid of several of the village residents.

View of the cell phone tower before
the guy wires have been attached

Work resumed after a break, during which we drank fresh juice from coconuts that Alex lopped open with carefully placed blows from a machete, exposing an opening to the center about the size of a quarter.

Satisfied customer wears a coconut milk moustache

Guy wires were attached to two metal rings attached to the mast about one third and two thirds of the way up from the base. These were then secured to metal hooks that had been pounded into the earth in an arc of 120 degrees from each other, a few meters outward from the base. One guy wire was attached to the corner of the shed at the roof line.

Insulated wires that were separately attached to the antenna and the solar panel were run over to the shed at the roof line, and from there into the shed, where they were attached to the GSM pay phone and the battery backup control system.

Jorge explains the control panel monitoring
the solar panel and battery backup

Inside the shed, Jorge, Fausto and Alex busied themselves installing the control panel that monitors the battery as it is charged by the solar panel. They also connected the GSM pay phone and wired up the sockets for two low-power CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs. One of these was placed in the center of the shed and the other outside, both controlled by an on-off switch at the entrance door.

Alex completes the wiring inside the shed

Additionally, an extension conduit was buried under the dirt between the shed and the nearby thatched roof home, so that it could also have the benefit of lighting in the evening hours. Inside the home, plastic conduits routed the electric wires around to CFL sockets positioned inside and outside the abode. As darkness fell, we had our first opportunity to see the lights in action.

The installation was completed the next morning. Jorge offered me the chance to make the first phone call using the new GSM pay phone. I successfully made a call to blueEnergy in Bluefields, and spoke with a staff member in the office. A sign offering cell phone service was affixed to the outside wall of the shed. Calls within Nicaragua cost about 25 cents per minute, and calls elsewhere in Central America cost about 28 cents per minute.

Price list for calls in Nicaragua and other Central American countries

The mission was completed with the signing of a contract with Telcor by Jose, one of Alex's older brothers, who lives in the adjacent home. It spelled out the terms and conditions under which Jose is to maintain and oversee the use of the system and the GSM pay phone. Jorge went over the contract line-by-line with Jose before he signed it, to insure he understood it thoroughly.

Jorge explains the contract to Jose as his father Balbino looks on

We departed for Bluefields shortly thereafter, feeling very pleased with the outcome of our efforts. The new cell phone tower will facilitate communication between members of the community and the surrounding countryside, and would be a godsend in the event of some emergency requiring outside intervention.

Tik Tik Kaanu residents admiring the new cell phone tower.
Patriarch Balbino is on the far right.


Success of the Green Race and Reforestation Day in Managua

By Abdelia Estrada -- Fondo Natura (FUNDENIC) in collaboration with several private enterprises, NGOs and diplomatic representatives of Nicaragua, organized the first Carrera Verde, or Green Race, that included a 5km run, an environmental festival and a reforestation project. This ecological outreach was realized with the help of various local businesses and organizations.

The race was held on the 13th of May, with the start and finish line in the parking lot of the mall of the Galerias Santo Domingo. The environmental festival was held over two days starting the day prior to the race in the area next to the Galeria parking lot. Admittance was free and included a concert where the participants enjoyed the music of La Cuneta Son Machin, Katia Cardenal, Phillip Montalvan, Malos Habitos and many more.
Directors of the blueEnergy Managua and Bluefields offices
Through these activities it is hoped to create awareness about the environmental challenges that the country is facing and call everyone to action to preserve the precious resources of Nicaragua. To that end, every participant in the Green Race will plant four trees, totaling six thousand trees. They can register themselves as volunteers to support this activity which will take place on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays starting in June and ending in August. They can participate as group representatives of their organizations or businesses, coordinating with the assistance of FUNDENIC. The reforestation will be done in the Fondo Natura nature reserve, situated close to Montelimar, at kilometer 54 on the Carretera Masachapa.

The reforestation days will be led be volunteers of the civil society of environmental commitment, volunteers of the sponsors, runners of the Green Race and students from the colleges and universities.
Lal Marandin, coordinator of the bE Managua office shaking hands with the German ambassador
This initiative, a first of its kind in Nicaragua, was brought together by the following sponsors: La Prensa, Movistar, Grupo Casa Pellas, Gildan, AEI y Galerías Santo Domingo, together with FUNDENIC the association RENOVABLES, blueEnergy, UTN, American College, and special thanks to the technical help of the US embassy with the Managua Runners.


bE Assists with the Installation of Two Wind Measuring Towers

By Chris Sparadeo -- The Nicaraguan Ministry of Energy and Mines aims to revolutionize the national electric grid by demanding that by 2013 at least 50% of the country’s energy consumption is provided by renewable resources. It is an ambitious goal indeed, but with recent large-scale projects in wind and hydro energies, the projected figures might not fall so short from the target. 

In the latter months of 2011 the Nicaraguan Academy of Science (ACN) teamed up with blueEnergy to investigate wind potential on the Caribbean Coast. With an extensive knowledge base and local wind turbine installations in the double digits, blueEnergy is the undisputed authority of wind energy in the region. For this reason, ACN contracted blueEnergy for logistical assistance. Together ACN and blueEnergy worked to site and install a 50-meter wind measurement tower in the communities of El Bluff and Monkey Point.

Tower size, structure and measurement apparatuses were aptly selected upon preliminary site visits with the installation team. Each tower is fitted with six measurement devices that supply unique information vis-à-vis wind speed, direction and environmental conditions to help better understand and evaluate the possibility of implementing wind turbines on the Coast. Monthly data readings are taken on site and sent to Managua for analysis.

The first of the two towers was installed in El Bluff in January of 2012.  blueEnergy’s technical support was directed by Engineer Morten Gleditsch and carried out by technicians Jorge Lopez, Alex Blayath and Chris Sparadeo. El Bluff, just as its name suggests, is a serene strip of abruptly cut land that divides the Bluefields Bay from the Caribbean Ocean. It’s close proximity to Bluefields and forceful wind gusts averaging 7 m/s are promising signs of access to highly concentrated energy.

blueEnergy, ACN team and local workers at tower in El Bluff
 Positioned high on a rocky peninsula surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and jungle, the site of the second installation in Monkey Point is even more beautiful than that of El Bluff. Monkey Point lies 40 miles south of Bluefields, or in the local unit of measurement, about an hour and a half in panga. Wind readings at 50 meters average an impressive 9 to 10 m/s, registering the Wind in Monkey Point as Class 7, the highest of classes, for wind power density. The wind, intense as it is, also brings difficulty. A high concentration of salt levels in the air contributes to quick oxidation of support cables and equipment. 

50m tower in Monkey Point
The project was an opportunity for blueEnergy to share its localized knowledge and promote wind energy systems along the Caribbean Coast. Community members were as receptive as they were enthusiastic about the possibility of a forthcoming wind turbine project and with such promising data the projects future is looking as bright as the color TVs and florescent light bulbs that the possible electrification could allow for. 


The Poison of the Social Sector: Interviews with Mathias Craig

For all of those interested in the philosophy of what drives blueEnergy, check out the following interviews with CEO Mathias Craig by Daniel Ben-Horin, founder of Techsoup:

Over on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog, I will soon publish a post entitled “Innovation Obsession Disorder”. My basic point is that we get all hot and gooey about great innovations but we tend to lose interest after the innovative pilot has been launched. The world is full of great innovative projects that can’t move beyond the pilot stage. And we, the world, are the losers.
Building a Better Filter Isn't What's Holding Us Back

Today, I follow yesterday’s post with Mathias Craig’s analysis of the issues surrounding innovation in the social sector, especially as that innovation is applied to benefit the poorest, most isolated populations.
“You can either lose fast or win slow”
blueEnergy takes growth very seriously.  But there are many different ways to grow.
Growing and Scaling Impact

Why should inventing new things be a priority over just making existing solutions work in new places? 
-Mathias Craig
Read Daniel Ben-Horin's take on innovation vs. propagation and join the conversation:
Innovation Obsession Disorder


blueEnergy Presents at the Global Philanthropy Forum and the World Bank Spring Meeting on Energy Access

By Lâl Marandin -- blueEnergy was fortunate to be invited to Washington DC in April to participate in the Global Philanthropy Forum and the World Bank’s Spring meeting on energy access. While participating in these events, Mathias and I took the opportunity to meet with many constituents – and it ended up being one of our most productive networking opportunities ever.

Global Philanthropy Forum (GPF)

The forum took place April 16 - 18, 2012 at the Fairmont Hotel, under the heading “Toward a New Social Contract”.

“What brings us together this year is the sense that the social contract is fraying, but that it is also evolving,” began GPF’s President and CEO, Jane Wales. “The conference focus is on the changing nature of the global social contract – how globalization is changing the way our societies choose to divide up responsibility and allocate resources to improve the public good. GPF members are exploring the ways in which traditional roles and responsibilities have shifted over the past few years, and how they continue to shift – particularly the increasing power of the individual in the national and global arena, and how the private sector and government can and should work together to increase their impact.”

Videos of most of the forum are available here.

Many notables were in attendance: the Head of USAID, the President and Director of World Bank, the Head of IADB, the Head of IFC, the Director of UNICEF, ex-Premier Tony Blair, US Ambassador for Global Partnerships, UN Head of Climate Change, Cindy McCain and Barbara Bush.

In his keynote speech, Tony Blair insisted on the need for developing countries to invest massively in infrastructure and energy. Those comments that Mr. Blair intended for Africa (where he now works with the AGI Foundation) resonated strongly for the region where blueEnergy strives to help bring sustainable energy for all.

Ex-Premier Tony Blair during his keynote speech at GPF 2012

On a similar note, the Director of the Ford Foundation, Mr. Luis Ubiñas insisted that measuring results was key to the non-profit sector but recognized that many results (such as advocacy) are hard to measure. "That should not detain us," said Mr. Ubiñas, "from trying to work in complex environments and engage in activities which results cannot be measured by “hard” (numerical) indicators."

Much of the attention of the conference was on "impact investing", the concept of doing philanthropy like venture capital investments, often with an emphasis on a blended financial and social return. Both Mathias and I stressed that while this is the new hot topic, it is important to keep in mind that philanthropy needs to continue to play a key role in serving the most isolated poor.

Mathias and I were proud to be able to present blueEnergy’s work on the ground in Nicaragua, in the context of the vast majority of US international philanthropy shifting towards a few countries in Africa and Haiti. The Southern Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS) of Nicaragua, where we operate, is the poorest region in the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but often doesn’t get the attention of the development community.

“Co-Designing for Impact” Panel

Mathias insisted in his panel at the GPF on the need to "co-design" solutions for energy or clean water access to ensure their validity and sustainability in a world where there are no "one size fits all" solutions. He stressed how bE works with stakeholders to ensure that our results are long-lasting, and insisted on the importance of funding "collaboration work". This kind of work often requires a different skill set than normal program work and organizations must build and get funding for this.

Video of the panel is available here.

Photo (left to right): Moderator Katherine Rosqueta,
Executive Director, Center for High Impact Philanthropy, UPENN;
Mathias Craig, blueEnerg;  Kate Gross,
Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative;
Dominic Murren, HumbleFactory

World Bank Spring Meetings : blueEnergy’s Panel, “Business Models for Energy Access”.

Thanks to HIVOS, blueEnergy was invited to join the World Bank spring meetings on April the 18th, alongside social enterprise SELCO from India, Offset4poor and Arc Finance (US), entitled “Business Models for Financing Access to Sustainable Energy in Developing Countries”, moderated by the World Resource Institute and hosted at the World Bank.
On this panel, Lâl Marandin defended the idea that in places of great isolation and vulnerability such as the RAAS in Nicaragua where blueEnergy works, philanthropy must continue to support the development of the adequate business and service ecosystems for other leveraging mechanisms to pick it up from there: micro finance, use of technology (such as cellphone apps, etc..), social entreprise. Lâl explained that blueEnergy believes in the need to "co-design" solutions for energy or clean water access to ensure their validity and sustainability, being focused on a very specific reality (Atlantic coast) where we will continue to promote small solar systems, ecostoves and rustic clean water systems with business models where "sustainability" means investing in social impact first, not hoping for economical returns in the short or medium terms. blueEnergy will continue to explore evolutions of these models and learning opportunities with our partners from the Renovables association.

After the panel, in a quite serendipitous way we were invited to join the happy hour at the Bank Information Center, the NGO watchdog of the World Bank, and were able to meet with Christian Donaldson (BIC) and Sunita Dubey (Basic South initative).

Meeting with Ambassador Francisco Campbell - Ambassador of Nicaragua to the United States

On April 18th we met with Ambassador Campbell in the beautiful Nicaraguan embassy, on the East side of the building, in the "Caribbean Room". In our discussion, Mr. Campbell requested news about Miss Colette and the work with the Ramas. We gave him an update on blueEnergy and the work we’re doing with the Renovables association. We also explained our work with Corn Island mayor (Cleveland Webster) and how we’ve supported his participation at the World Water Forum, in France last March, in coordination with the French Embassy in Managua.
(left to right) Lal Marandin, Ambassador Campbell,
Mathias Craig

María Margarita Espinosa from PRONicaragua participated in the meeting. PRONicaragua was recently honored by the World Bank as the best investing promotion agency in the Americas, and they are a proud member of Renovables.

Throughout the four days in Washington DC we met with partners, funders, government officials and other stakeholders. We are extremely appreciative to all those who made the time to speak with us.


bE sends mayor of Corn Island to World Water Forum in Paris

By Gaétan Russo, Michèle Grégoire, Emilie Etienne -- The sixth annual World Water Forum was held from March 12 to 16 in Marseille, France, and blueEnergy had the pleasure of bringing special guest Webster Cleveland, mayor of Corn Island. The central theme of the forum was "time for solutions." This forum brought together companies, associations and representatives of several organizations. Several members of blueEnergy France were present since part of a side event was organized blueEnergy.

This side event entitled "Innovation and North-South Cooperation", was promoted last September by members of the board of blueEnergy. Gradually, other NGOs, companies and research institutes joined this great project to talk about innovations in water projects of developing countries. The event was supported by the Water Academy and the Foundation SIWA-CFET.

Speakers of the round table are finalizing their presentation

The side event was held March 13 and Marseilles, and included three roundtable discussions on the topic of innovation ( financial, technical and cultural ) with players representing the complexities of this subject. Contributors included Antenna Technologies, TMW, hydrolic without Borders, ProNatura, Kynarou, water dries, SIDECM, Andre N'Guessan: of AgroParisTech, The Source SIT and of course, blueEnergy

Emilie talks about bE's innovative ways to fund social projects
(implication of beneficiaries, local institutions and the Service Learning Program

During blueEnergy's participation in the roundtable on financial innovation, we discussed the approach of our association: involvement of local people in manufacturing facilities, involvement of local institutions and international support through solidarity missions (find details of the procedure here ).

Paul Barett, actor and professional coach, motivating the round tables

The panel discussions were moderated by the famous Paul Barrett. A total of forty people attended the event. bE was also represented at the Forum Alternative thanks to Marie-Claude Scherrer and Michael Gregory.

Finally, during the forum we hosted Mr. Webster Cleveland, the mayor of Corn Island off the coast of Bluefields. Mr. Cleveland was able to meet different actors working in the field of water and to seek solutions to problems of water and sanitation of the island.

Meetings were set up with the Nicaraguan embassy to France and Mr. Begorre, the French organizer of the forum. In a letter to both the Nicaraguan embassy in France and Mr. Begorre, Mr. Cleveland described the water conditions in Corn Island as grave:
The poor neighborhoods suffer serious health problems - dysentery, kidney infections and  more, that affect in particular children and the elderly. The population pulls water from traditional wells - shallow, poorly protected and contaminated. It is essential to find a solution this problem with sanitation, at least with the installation of dry latrines, educate the population for the long term and help them adapt step-by-step better rules of hygiene.
Mayor of Corn Island Webster Cleveland (l) and WWF organizer Mr. Begorre

Mr. Cleveland even got the opportunity to do some sightseeing while in Paris.The blueEnergy members accompanied him on the old port of Marseilles and to see the Eiffel Tower.

This participation in the 6th annual World Water Forum was therefore a success for the association blueEnergy and its partners, and a vital opportunity for visibility. Another big thank you to all participants of the side event!


One intern's bE experience

By Mostafa Aboul Dahab -- When thinking of the necessities of living, the first things that come to mind are light and clean water.

Building the battery box
In our day to day lives in the developed cities over the world, we became accustomed to having light and water available all the time. To fortunate people such as myself, both having water and light at my disposal has become such a norm that I find it incredible that there are others out there who struggle without it.

Securing the mounting brackets on the solar panel
I never imagined participating in any volunteer work, especially in Nicaragua! However, when I received the first email from the economics department in my university informing me about blueEnergy, I started looking at the picture from a different perspective. As I was always fascinated with renewable energy, this was the main reason that made me make the decision of volunteering to work at bE.

Wiring the inverter
I had a great experience with blueEnergy; I learned many things about the culture of the country and how minor events can make huge changes in people's lives.The best experience was going to one of the communities for the solar panel installation. We spent a day in the workshop at blueEnergy preparing for the installation. We then went to one of the isolated farms in Rocky Point to make the installation. After a panga (speed boat) ride, a bus ride and a walk in the rain forest, we finally reached the farm. The owners of the house were very pleased to see us. We spent the day making the installation and after we finished installing the panel and installing the light bulbs, we saw the extreme happiness on the peoples' faces and how such small things can change the lives of the entire family. 

Mostafa and Leonie with the beneficiary of the solar panel
All in all, my experience with bE as a whole was one of the greatest experiences in my life, and I would definitely go back to Bluefields and do more work there if I were to get a chance in the future. All the people who were involved were very helpful and I am very appreciative of all the things I' ve learned from everyone in it.

Casey, Mostafa and Leonie all give it thumbs up!


bE the change you seek!

blueEnergy: The Change You Seek

A short video highlighting bE's programs at home in Bluefields and in the communities.