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.

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