Nicaragua is a renewable energy “paradise.” With its sun and wind exposure, natural waterways, and extensive geothermic activity, it has the capability of generating 5800 MW annually from clean energy sources. The Nicaraguan government plans to generate 90% of its energy from clean, renewable sources by 2020, moving almost entirely away from oil-based fuel–a lofty but realistic goal.
However, much of Nicaragua remains without electricity. Nationwide, about 35% do not have access to electrical power. In rural areas, that number climbs to two-thirds. Low population density, difficulty of access, and low incomes make it difficult to install electrical systems in rural areas.
Despite these challenges, a group of engineers has been building dozens of small electric hydroelectric plants in northern Nicaragua for over 30 years. The Benjamin Linder Association of Rural Development Workers (ATDER-BL), an NGO born out of the Sandinista-Contra war in the 1980s, works with small rural communities directly to construct rural development projects such as small hydroelectric plants, drinking water systems, and others. Their approach requires significant community involvement:
“ATDER-BL asks that communities who will benefit from clean drinking water or electrical power projects to provide the required volunteer manual labour to complete their project. In this way they become owners of the project both because they have built it and because they will receive benefit from it. We consider this as good development practice for it builds skills in individuals and strengthens the organizational abilities and the sense of unity of a community.”
The impact of these projects has been dramatic. Electricity now powers businesses and schools, has helped modernize many processes, and has resulted in economic growth. “’El Bote is a town of only 95 houses but as soon as there was electricity available, they started increasing the years of schooling… and graduated the first class of high school students in El Bote about three years ago,’” explained Rebecca Leaf, Associate Director of ATDER-BL.
Green Empowerment is another organization that works to bring renewable energy to rural Nicaragua. “In total, we have helped bring home lighting to 17,000 people, protected more than 2,300 acres of critical rainforest and watershed, brought clean water to 1,400, and biogas to almost 100 villagers. Our work in Nicaragua continues today to relieve poverty and implement sustainable energy projects.”