Ian Derbyshire

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Posts by Ian

  • The power to transform communities

    December 15th, 2017

    The village of Amaguaya sits on the slopes of the Cordillera Real mountain range in Bolivia about 4,000 metres above sea level.  Although it’s only just over 70 miles from La Paz, the journey there, mostly along a small single track, takes about five hours.

    Vicente Poma FloresDespite their remoteness, Amaguaya’s 830 residents have recently witnessed an extraordinary transformation in their community.

    Until 2014, Amaguaya was a village without power.  But the installation of a 60 kw micro hydro plant has transformed the lives of the residents. Electricity has brought light, hot water, safe storage of vaccines and access to the internet, radio and TV.

    The construction of the scheme was overseen by colleagues from Practical Action in Bolivia who also provided training on technical issues and managing the supply company. This included agreeing tariffs and awarding contracts and deciding how to resolve issues of non-payment of bills. Whilst the local authority will undertake major repairs, the community itself will continue to be responsible for day to day operations.

    According to Vicente Poma Flores, the chief operator of the hydro-electric plant,

    “Now we have a way, we have light, it is as if we are climbing the steps to a better and better life.” 

    Vicente grew up in the village and appreciates the transformation as much as anyone.  According to Vicente,

    “My children no longer damage their eyesight working by kerosene lamp,”

    Street lighting has helped people to move around safely after dark and access to electricity in the home has given students more time to do their homework. Vicente has five children in school and sees the benefits for himself. New computer equipment has been acquired by the school to enrich the children’s education, with seven computers now available. Vicente recalls that when he was a child he studied with a lamp. He said that in those days, it felt as though they had been “forgotten”.

    Earlier this year, our team in Bolivia revisited Amaguaya to see how things were progressing.  One of the most striking impacts was that the availability of power had encouraged some former residents to return and resettle. A community that had been facing decline has turned the corner.

    For those of us who’ve grown up with electricity, it can be almost impossible to imagine how much the advent of power can mean. But for Amaguaya, their new micro hydro scheme doesn’t just mean electricity, it also signals hope for a bright new future.

    This article drew on Claudia Canales blog on her visit to Amaguaya in January 2015

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  • Has solar power’s moment in Africa finally arrived?

    May 13th, 2016

    Some rural areas of Zimbabwe are currently in a state of disaster after being hit by a severe drought. But there is hope that a new Practical Action project in the country using solar power to irrigate land could help overcome the problems that climate change is causing.

    Solar Powered Community in Africa

    Photo credit: SNV and The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Zimbabwe

    A couple of hours’ drive from Gwanda in the south west of Zimbabwe, close to the border with Botswana, you come across an extraordinary sight. A bank of solar panels – 400 in total – make for a dazzling spectacle under Mashaba’s blazing midday sun.

    They constitute Zimbabwe’s largest off-grid solar farm and are heralding a new era in solar power for some of Africa’s most marginalised communities.

    For Winnie Sebata, 67, retired school teacher turned budding entrepreneur, energy access has come at a perfect time. “We really hope this project will change the lives of this community and the lives of people of Zimbabwe. So we are lucky to have been chosen. We are 8km from the border, so hopefully cross-border traffic will open up more business opportunities”.

    Electrification has given Mr & Mrs Sebata the chance to diversify their retail business, selling meat from local farmers, opening a hairdressers and providing a range of solar powered products to meet growing local demand.

    Practical Action is leading a consortium of public and private partners both to deploy the technology in Mashaba and develop a sound business model to establish viable mini grids. With the majority of up-front investment for the 99kW project being met by the European Union, the four year project to install and bed down the scheme is well under way.

    Apart from the Sebata’s business, the other early beneficiaries include the health clinic, the primary school, local smallholder farmers and several energy kiosks. By 2019, the grid will be serving more than 10,000 people in the surrounding area.

    Shepherd Masuka, Practical Action’s project technician

    Does solar power have the answer to drought in southern Africa?

    According to Shepherd Masuka, Practical Action’s project technician (pictured above), the imminent arrival of pre-payment meters to aid the collection of fees will enable users to be charged for their electricity usage, with subsidised rates for the school and the clinic. Reliable revenue will allow for on-going maintenance of the grid with an estimated payback period of between 8-10 years.

    The Mashaba scheme is just one of a growing number of such developments. A recent Economist article (Follow The Sun, April 16th 2016), highlighted the growth of solar power across the developing world with growing demand for energy, the falling price of solar panels (80% in the past five years) and technological improvements in generation and storage contributing to that growth.

    Lessons are still being learned about improving the policy environment, providing access to finance across the value chain and protecting consumer’s rights. But certainly for Mr and Mrs Sebata, their new business venture looks to have a very bright future indeed.

    For more information on Practical Action’s work towards universal access to modern energy services for all, visit us at https://practicalaction.org/energy

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