Engineering for a Sustainable Society
- Alternative Energy in the Andean Highlands: Phase 1 (PDF)
- Alternative Energy in the Andean Highlands: Phase 2 (PDF)
ESF-ESS is in full swing of implementing a project in the Andean highlands of Perú. This stunning region, home to the Quechua ancestors of the Incan Empire, is not easily accessible and has seen little government development. Brian Hettler (M.L.A., 2011) has travelled to Perú and begun working relationships with Desarrollo Sostenible en Acción (Sustainable Development in Action or DESEA) who work in point-of-use water filtration projects and Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos ECOAN (Association of Andean Ecosystems) who work to promote conservation and sustainable rural development. Though our work has just begun, we are very excited to advance ESF-ESS's mission in Perú.
Abra Malagá Thastayoc is a rural Andean community consisting of Quechua-speaking inhabitants practicing self-sufficient agriculture, pastoralism and traditional weaving techniques. Like many rural villages in Peru, this community lacks a connection to the electrical grid and there is little chance of this happening in the future. Most local households do not have lighting, and community members must travel long distances to charge basic electrical devices. This project will provide accessible sources of electricity to twenty households in Abra Malagá Thastayoc using off-grid alternative energy sources while also developing a sustainable model for rural electrification in the Peruvian highlands.
Rural electrification benefits underserved communities in many ways. The most commonly requested and important application is lighting. Lighting provides several benefits: children have more nighttime hours to study, there is more time for socialization and community activities, and there are more hours for craft-making and other entrepreneurial enterprises that can generate additional income. Electrical lighting also typically replaces kerosene lamps, which emit particles that cause air pollution and increase the risk of respiratory sickness. Locally available electricity also reduces travel times needed to charge batteries for use in basic devices such as radios and cell phones. Increased access to electricity has been shown to increase the use of these devices, helping to keep people more informed of events outside of their community including market opportunities and health care campaigns.
Electrical power will be produced using small scale hydroelectric generators, called pico hydroelectric, and household solar panel systems. The pico hydroelectric generator was designed to be an affordable and accessible source of electricity in developing countries and can be built and repaired using readily available materials and tools. This accessibility will allow local people to take responsibility for and ownership of providing electricity within their community through a community-based installation program and a self-sustaining maintenance strategy. The generator is housed within a standard 5-gallon bucket and is built using common PVC materials and automobile parts, including a modified Toyota alternator. They will be installed and operated as remote charging stations within the clusters of houses that are near suitable water sources. Each generator location will allow 3-4 local families to charge batteries that can power LED lamps, radios and cell phones. Household solar panel systems will be installed in the remaining houses that are widely dispersed and located far away from appropriately sized rivers. The generators and solar panels provide comparable capacity of electricity.
August 2013 Implementation
The first phase of project implementation began in August 2013, carried out by a project team consisting of SUNY-ESF students Thomas Decker, Ross Mazur, and Jessica Straub, and the designer of the pico hydroelectric generator, Samuel Redfield.
Soon after their arrival in Cusco in, the team visited Abra Malaga to participate in a community meeting. During the meeting the team introduced themselves (through a Quechua translator) and reviewed the plan for providing electricity to the community using a combination of pico hydroelectric generators and household solar panel systems. The community members discussed where the panels and generators were most needed and then the relationship with the community was formalized by the signing of a memorandum of understanding that outlined the future responsibilities of the project team, the community and the partner Peruvian NGO, ECOAN.
With the agreement in place, the project team began constructing the pico hydroelectric generators in Cusco while the solar panels were being shipped from the distributor. The team successfully located all of the needed materials and technical expertise and constructed two 5 gallon pico hydroelectric generators within two weeks. The generators cost approximately $600 and can produce up to four times the electricity of solar panels, which cost about $900. This implementation process confirmed that the generators are a much more cost efficient method of providing electricity in areas with suitable sources of water.
The team returned to Abra Malaga to install one completed generator, three solar panel systems, and to distribute LED headlamps and laterns. In total, three solar panels and one pico hydroelectric generator were successfully installed, providing basic electricity to 30 Abra Malaga community members.
The first phase of the project was an enormous success: the relationship with the community was strengthened, the generators were proven to be a viable option in the region, and a large portion of the community received tangible benefits in the form of accessible electricity. After seeing the generators in action the community members were very impressed, prompting a number of requests for the technology.
The next phase of project implementation will take place in December 2013 when Thomas Decker, the lead project engineer, will travel back to Peru. While there, Thomas will install the second completed pico hydroelectric generator and assess additional potential generator sites. He will ensure that all previously installed systems are fully operational and conduct training exercises with ECOAN employees and community members to strengthen their ability to maintain