So­lar pan­els shine in dark­est Ama­zon, the ‘last fron­tier’

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

ITUXI EXTRACTIVE RE­SERVE, Brazil: In the dark­est reaches of Brazil’s Ama­zon, so­lar pan­els are bring­ing light-and could help save the rain­for­est.

Aure­lio Souza is work­ing to in­stall so­lar pan­els in vil­lages along the re­mote Pu­rus and Ituxi rivers in the west­ern Ama­zonas state. “The Ama­zon is the last big fron­tier for elec­tric­ity in the coun­try,” says the con­sul­tant for a joint pro­gram of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Brazil’s en­vi­ron­men­tal agency ICMBio. “You have at least two mil­lion peo­ple (in the Brazil­ian Ama­zon) with­out ac­cess to mod­ern en­ergy.”

Bring­ing power to mil­lions might not sound like an ob­vi­ous way to pre­serve the world’s greatest for­est, al­ready un­der con­stant pres­sure from log­gers and farm­ers.

But con­sider what the so­lar pan­els are re­plac­ing. In tiny com­mu­ni­ties of the Ituxi na­ture re­serve, west of the city of Labrea, small scale farm­ers al­most uni­ver­sally de­pend on noisy, smoky gen­er­a­tors for light and re­frig­er­a­tion-and fre­quent trips to buy more fuel at higher than usual prices. To keep fish they catch in the rivers fresh they also use large quan­ti­ties of Sty­ro­foam, an­other en­vi­ron­men­tal men­ace.

“The re­duc­tion in the con­sump­tion of diesel cuts green­house gases and re­duces the de­pen­dency of com­mu­ni­ties on fos­sil fu­els,” Souza said. The project was launched in July in a neigh­bor­ing na­ture re­serve, called Me­dio Pu­rus, home to about 6,000 peo­ple who sub­sist on fish­ing and fam­ily farms. And with­out the din of gen­er­a­tors drown­ing out the deep si­lence of the for­est night, life is al­ready chang­ing.


At the com­mu­nity school in the Cas­siana com­mu­nity, part of Me­dio Pu­rus, night classes taught by satel­lite link have al­ready be­come a whole lot more re­ward­ing now that the gen­er­a­tor is no longer needed. “We couldn’t con­cen­trate with the noise of the mo­tor and a lot of our classes were can­celled be­cause there wasn’t enough fuel,” said Fran­cisca de Almeida, 30, who is in her sec­ond year of stud­ies. Fur­ther up the river in the settlement of Ju­ru­cua, neigh­bors are us­ing so­lar power to run a cas­sava mill, while Maria Fran­cisca de Souza, 54, is fi­nally able to have river wa­ter pumped to her house. She hopes to build her first bath­room soon.

The com­mu­nity as­so­ci­a­tion for the Ituxi re­serve, with a pop­u­la­tion of barely 600, has hooked up to so­lar power to run a wa­ter well pump. There’s even a re­frig­er­a­tor for spe­cial oc­ca­sions that used to cost $400 a month in fuel. These might be small steps but in­no­va­tion is the best bet for Brazil­ians in re­mote com­mu­ni­ties. De­spite an of­fi­cial state pol­icy of bring­ing power to the en­tire coun­try, “the cost is very high in these places,” Souza said.

For Iris­mar Duarte, vice pres­i­dent of the Ituxi as­so­ci­a­tion, the so­lar pan­els open the door to more progress. “Ev­ery­one is look­ing for ways to in­no­vate and peo­ple are adapt­ing to the changes. That’s what we’re try­ing to do here,” she said. The as­so­ci­a­tion hopes to get a freezer next and abil­ity to power equip­ment to ramp up pro­duc­tion of acai, a po­ten­tially valu­able fruit which so far is only grown for do­mes­tic con­sump­tion. When Duarte hears the so­lar panel-pow­ered pumps fire up, al­most noise­lessly, she still can hardly be­lieve the change. “It’s a dream, some­thing I thought would never hap­pen,” he says. — AFP

A class in ses­sion at a school in Cas­siana in the Me­dio Pu­rus Re­serve, which has ben­e­fited from so­lar en­ergy pan­els in­stalled by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), in the West­ern Ama­zon re­gion. — AFP

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