Sponsored Project: Potrero Sur, February 2014

In February 2014, GRID Alternatives and Power to the People led a trip to Nicaragua with volunteers from SunRun to install an off-grid photovoltaic system on a primary school in the community of Potrero Sur.  Potrero Sur is a rural community located in Boaco, Nicaragua (90 kilometers northeast of the country’s capital).  It is formed by three sectors: Limones, Zapotes and Limos. The primary school serves three additional communities outside of Potrero Sur: El Mango, La Palma and El Coyol. There are about 50 families and a total of 300 inhabitants in the community.

Potrero Sur has a well-cared-for school that serves nearly 40 local children of different ages. The main economic activities in the community are farming and raising cattle.  Families also cultivate basic grains like beans, corn and wheat and 80% of this production is sold in the closest city market while 20% is consumed by the families of the community. Cattle are raised for milk production, which is sold to the cheese factory. Agricultural activities affect boys’ school attendance because many parents prefer their boys to do agricultural jobs to bring extra and necessary income for the family.

The community is located eight kilometers away from the electric grid. To charge cell phones, community members must walk this distance and pay C$10 (U$ 0.41) per charge. Many families use kerosene lamps or substitute kerosene for diesel, even if the family is aware that they are at risk for respiratory illnesses.  For basic lighting, some families use two D alkaline batteries with two wires connected to a tiny light bulb from a flashlight. Although this system may not provide enough light for a room, families say that it is less dangerous and more economical than using a kerosene/diesel lamp. Families spend on average C$25-C$50 (U$1-2) every couple of months to replace these batteries, which is a lot less expensive than buying kerosene or diesel.

The community of Potrero Sur is excited to have a solar system on their school because they believe that it will benefit not just their community, but also other families from the surrounding area.  The community expressed the need to have electricity at their school to connect computers and provide adult education classes in the evenings. Last year, only six students graduated from the 6th grade. Only a small number of students continued onto high school because it is too far from their community to walk each day. The teachers hope that having exposure to computers in the classroom will help motivate these students and make it easier for them to complete their assignments, instead of having to walk to the nearest town to use a library with electricity. In addition to the educational potential electricity could provide, the school could also serve as a social gathering place after school hours where the community would be able to meet and hold events, like movie nights, to improve community cohesion. View more photos from this project here.