Monday, October 22, 2007

Climate Change, Tallberg Forum, Sweden

In June of 2007, I participated for the first time at the Tallberg Forum in Sweden, where about 500 participants discussed the topic : " As the present path is not sustainable -what is ? "
The group was a mixture of experts and individuals that feel strongly about this issue and the problem was being approached from several angles such as :

Global Governance
New Development Paradigm
Land-Use, Water and Food
Capital Markets
Public Health Threats
Reinventing Production and Transportation
Risks and Security in a Ecosystem Breakdown

My particular interest was the New Development Paradigm and the use of renewable energy to develop this new paradigm. It was a very international and impressive group of people and for more information check the webssite at :

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

" Cracking the Financial Markets" , Accion International and Credit Suisse

In March of 2007, I participated in the Conference " Cracking the Financial Markets " organized by Accion International and Credit Suisse in New York City.
The conference brought together the who-is-who in Micro-Finance and discussed the various financial instruments that have been used or are under development to maintain the flow of funds into the Micro Finance Sector. For me as a relative newcomer in Micro Finance it was interesting to hear the discussions about the use of securitization mechanisms to commercialize existing loan portfolios in the financial markets. The strategies ,experiences and successes of investment funds that invest in micro-finance organizations all over the world were also actively exchanged.
It was fascinating to see that investments in micro loan portfolios have a tendency to lower the overall risk profile of conventional investment portfolios.
One of the quotes used at the conference stuck with me :
" The Grameen Bank in Bangladesh makes the Poor creditworthy, organizations like Accion International make Micro-Finance Investment worthy "

Micro-Finance , Accion International Meeting in Colombia

In March 2007, an Accion International Board Meeting was held in Bogota , Colombia. The day before the meeting , we visited the Accion affiliate , Finamerica, and two of their customers in Bogota and its surroundings.
Finamerica has close to 40.000 customers and a loan portfolio of around $ 50 Million US. It is an impressive organization with a dynamic team but it does face several competitors in the Micro-Finance market in the Colombian capital.
We visited two customers ,which are building businesses in the less affluent regions of Bogota. One customer , Don Jaime, owns a foundry , where he and his twelve employees produce brass components such as door and window handles , belt buckles etc. that are being sold through a network of eighty hard ware stores and retailers in the Colombian market. Don Jaime has been working with Finamerica for about five years and he had three employees before he started using micro loans .
The second customer, that we visited runs a textile manufacturing company, that produces pyjamas and nightwear and sells his products to retailers via a wholesale market . He had been working with Finamerica for three years and he used the original micro loan to start the company.
In the Accion International office in Bogota, we also visited a teaching facility where individuals are being trained in entrepreneurship . " Dialogo de Gestiones " ( Management Conversations ) as the program is called trains 90.000 entrepreneurs per year all over Latin America in topics such as " How do I start a Company "; " How can Debt be used " etc. All in all it was for me a very impressive first visit to Colombia.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Solar Energy, Micro-Finance in Bolivia

In March of 2007, I visited Eduardo Lozada , founder and President of Enersol, a company that sells and installs Solar Photovoltaic Systems in Bolivia. The company is based in Santa Cruz , Bolivia, has been in existence close to twenty years and has installed between 15-20.000 solar systems in Bolivia . As a comparison, there are around 15.000 solar systems installed in the entire US right now .( May 2007 ) The average system size in Bolivia is significantly smaller , though.
After meeting the Enersol team in the Santa Cruz headquarters , Eduardo and I hit the road to visit some of the solar installations, which are mostly located in rural areas where there is no electricity available, in other words " off-grid".
The typical system consists of a solar panel of around 50-100 Watts that charges a battery during the day when the sun is shining and powers 4-5 compact-fluorescent (energy-efficient) lights, cell-phone charger, radio and black & white TV at night. Every system is also equipped with a GPS emitter ,which makes it easy to locate them .
We left Santa Cruz on the main road leading West but shortly thereafter started using dirt roads following the signal of our hand-held GPS. We nearly got stuck in the mud, as the rainy season had brought more rain than usual and had to deal with a flat tire. Eventually, we encountered isolated installed systems in the area of Villa Florida. The systems were installed in isolated homes typically owned by farmers. There is no electricity available , so without solar power , people would have to rely on candles for light or car batteries that need to be carried into town to be charged for a fee.
In this particular area , the sale of 3.000 solar systems was partly financed by Emprender , a Micro-Finance organization that was originally created to make solar energy more accessible to the local population. Emprender is still in existence , but today financing of solar power systems only represents 50 % of Emprender's loan portfolio.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Renewable Energy and Climate Change

In July, I spent four days at the ASES-American Solar Energy Society Conference in Denver and the topic was Renewable Energy and Climate Change. There were a couple of facts and developments that struck me:

In the US , about 50% of the emissions are being caused by buildings, 25% by transportation and 25% by industry. American Architects have founded the "Architecture2030" initiative with the goal to reduce emissions from all new buildings by 50% starting now and to reach carbon neutrality by 2030. By the year 2030 , 75% of the then existing buildings will have either been built or renovated between now and then. So committing to higher building standards now will have a major effect over the next 25 years. Take a look at

With regards to energy efficiency , it is amazing what impact we all can have by doing our part. If every of the 110 Million households in the US would replace one 60W incandescent lightbulb with a compact fluorescent one, we would save enough energy to power all households in the states of Rhode Island and Delaware and avoid the construction of two additional power plants. If each household would replace four incandescent lightbulbs by compact fluorescent ones , the need for nuclear power plants would be eliminated . How many compact fluorescent lightbulbs do you use ?

There was also a fascinating discussion about plug-in Hybrids at the Conference in Denver. We are probably all familiar with Hybrid vehicles, cars that use combustion as well as electric engines . Due to the use of the electric engine , the gas mileage increases by about 60% in comparison to the same vehicle with only one combustion engine. A Plug-in Hybrid makes it possible plug the car into a regular outlet , the battery is always fully charged and the car will drive on electricity more frequently. The battery will recharge either by plugging in or by driving the car with the combustion engine. As the car will use the electric engine more often, the gas mileage will increase even more.
The fascinating aspect of the discussion was the use of the stored energy in the batteries of plugged-in vehicles for the management of our electricity grid. That means that utilities would be able to access the energy in the batteries of the plugged-in vehicles to meet peak demands of electricity and avoid black-outs . Using this additional energy resource could mean avoiding costly investements in new power plants if there are sufficient plug-in hybrids in circulation. Under these circumstances , subsidizing the development and the sale of plug-in hybrids makes perfect economic sense.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Small Scale Rural PV Installations

It is amazing to see how these small scale solar installations change the reality of life in the rural areas. The systems do not connect to the grid and are stand-alone. It is all about generating electricity there where people live and work.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Honduras Trip

On my recent trip to Honduras in the first week of June 2006, I visited the company Soluz Honduras, which is based in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

US entrepreneur, Richard Hansen, founded Soluz in 1998. Since that time, the company has installed about 5000 solar systems in Honduras. My objective for this trip was to get to know Soluz Honduras and its dynamic CEO, Loyda Alonso, and to help establish contacts with local financing entities that might have an interest in lending money to Soluz Honduras’ rural customers.

We met with Finsol, the largest micro finance organization in Honduras with 18,000 clients and a loan portfolio of $18m, and ODEF, with 15,000 clients and a portfolio of $9m US. Finsol’s customers are very urban, whereas 80% of ODEF’s clientele live in rural Honduras. Both organizations were extremely interested in establishing a strategic alliance with Soluz as access to the rural customer is becoming more and more valuable.

We also had a phone conversation with Jimmy Navarro, General Manager of La Central, a cooperative of 3000 coffee farmers that is interested in installing solar-powered coffee dryers.

Afterwards, we visited the village of Santa Rita where Soluz installed thirty-one off-grid solar systems just six months ago. The villagers were very satisfied with the performance of the solar systems and proudly demonstrated their new electric lights, TVs, and cell phone chargers. The village is about fifty-years-old and never had electricity until half a year ago.

The school building there, which is also now a solar-powered facility, was being used as a health center during our visit, and a visiting doctor and his traveling medical team were performing preventive health care for the local residents. The medical team visits the town once a month.

It was great to see how the circumstances of Santa Rita’s population have improved so drastically in the past six months. However, it reminds us of how much more work still has to be done. Soluz is preparing to participate in a World Bank project whose objective is to install 5000 solar systems in rural Honduras. Soluz has the ideal preparation and years of experience to help this project succeed.