blueEnergy

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Overview

Developing Communities in Rural Nicaragua Through Small Scale Solar and Wind Power Installations

 

Overview

Headquarters San Francisco, CA, USA / Bluefields, Nicaragua
Established 2003
Impact Areas Nicaragua
Type Non-profit
Energy Sectors
Business Model Types
  • Product Sourcing: Self-Design, Local Manufacture, Customized Product, (Turbine installations), Outsource Design, Foreign Manufacture, Uniform Product(Lanterns and other small products)
  • Distribution: Community-Based Implementation, Knowledge Dissemination, Sale through Partners
  • Affordability:Subsidization, Partner Financing
  • Organization Financing: Grants and Donations, Self-Subsidization (Internship Program Revenue)
  • Scaling:New Locations (Replication), New Products
  • Social Impact: Depth/Holistic Impact
Staff Size 35
Annual Budget $500,000
Major Funders Current: European Union, COSUDE, Renewable World, Ile de France. Historic: Hivos, Good Energies,
Awards 2002: MIT 1K Business Plan Competition
2007: Energy Globe Award, , Tech Museum of Innovation Award, CNN Hero,
2008: Santa Clara Global Social Benefit Incubator, Ashoka Fellow, French Enterprises and Environment Award, Credit Cooperatif Foundation
2010: Government of Nicaragua ERA Award

ABOUT

BlueEnergy

blueEnergy brings affordable, sustainable electrification, water, and sanitation to marginalized communities in rural Nicaragua, and promotes wind and other renewable energy technologies across Nicaragua and worldwide.

 

 

Energy Products/Services

  • 1kW wind/Solar Generator
  • Home electrical systems
  • Home efficiency retrofits
  • Solar lanterns
  • Freezers
  • LED lighting systems

Target Market

  • Rural poor people on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, though blueEnergy also offers energy saving and backup devices to other demographics
  • Renewable energy providers in Nicaragua
  • Wind power providers worldwide
  • Students interested in renewable energy

 

BLueEnergy

Revenue Streams

  • Grants and donations, paid internship program

Value Proposition

  • blueEnergy teaches local people in Nicaragua’s severely underserved Eastern coastal region how to construct energy systems using solar panels to capture clean, renewable power.
  • The training builds a base of knowledgeable people who can maintain the power stations, and creates desperately needed local jobs.
  • Entire communities are benefiting from the new economic opportunities that come with electrification.
  • In addition, blueEnergy makes a broader impact by helping others replicate its implementation methods through a  network of renewable energy producers at the national level in Nicaragua (Renovables), and a network of local wind turbine producers at a global level (Wind Empowerment).
  • blueEnergy also promotes clean energy to students in the US, through both summer internships at project sites and wind turbine workshops at their schools.

Problem Addressed

  • Poor rural communities in Nicaragua lack access to the basic tools they need to develop their communities, including grid power.
  • The overarching problem addressed is much larger.  At a worldwide level, blueEnergy is trying to address the problem of an inequitable and unsustainable global system of consumption by promoting more sustainable lifestyles and behaviors through its networks, outreach, and internship program.

Where They Are Now

Impact to Date

  • 15 communities served
  • 3,544 beneficiaries
  • 6.5 kW of installed wind capacity
  • 5.8 kW of installed solar PV capacity
  • 47 home systems
  • 175 home efficiency retrofits
  • 253 portable LED lights
  • 61 water filters
  • 5 wells dug
  • 11 local employees

Milestones

  • 2002: blueEnergy created as winning entry in MIT $1k business plan competition
  • 2003: Incorporated as a nonprofit
  • 2004: Installed first energy system in Nicaragua
  • 2010: Helped create Nicaraguan national renewable energy association, “Renovables”
  • 2011: Helped create global association of local producers of small wind turbines for rural electrification, “WindEmpowerment”

Growth Plan

  • Developing 3-5kw generators to reduce cost of power generation
  • Developing Center of Excellence in Renewable Energy Technologies (CERCA) in Bluefields Nicaragua with Nicaraguan Instituto Nacional de Technologia to further develop local capacity
  • 3-year strategic plan for 2011-2013 calls for
    • Growth in direct service on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua as well as growth through the Renovables and WindEmpowerment networks.
    • Major expansion of internship and leadership programs.
    • Expansion into Africa through key strategic partnership on the ground there.

How They Deliver

Product Sourcing

  • blueEnergy designs its own community power systems to meet its target users’ needs.  These systems have included wind turbines, but are now primarily solar.
  • blueEnergy manufactures and assembles these systems locally, and trains target communities how to maintain them.
  • blueEnergy also distributes off-the-shelf products, including d.light solar lanterns.

Revenue & Affordability

  • An average village energy installation costs between $10-15,000, which covers the solar power system, battery bank, and 3 years of maintenance visits.  This is paid for by donors.
  • Home systems are sold for a subsidized price of $1-500, depending on how many lights etc are desired.  They are generally bought on credit from a local microfinance bank.  Customers pay $3-5 every few weeks to charge the batteries.
  • Customer payments are more for empowerment and ownership than to generate revenue, and it often costs more to collect the money than customers pay.  If there is a net revenue gain, it goes into a community fund.

Distribution

  • blueEnergy’s primary focus is on community development and the long-term results of the power it delivers.
  • Before installing a system in a community, blueEnergy holds a community workshop to understand the community’s needs and expectations.  It then helps the community elect a village energy committee to help with installation and be responsible for the system long term.
  • In most villages, blueEnergy installs a solar panel system connected to a set of deep-cycle batteries.
  • Villagers then buy home electrical systems including lights, a battery and wiring to power TV and radio.
  • Generators are generally placed in a community buildings such as a school and used to power that as well.
  • blueEnergy trains local technicians to maintain the systems so they are as self-sufficient as possible.
  • In the past, blueEnergy primarily installed co-generation systems including wind turbines, but over the past year has begun shifting to solar-only systems. The two main reasons are:
    • the rapidly dropping cost of solar panels
    • a recognition that wind turbine technologies may be too complex for blueEnergy’s target communities to maintain on their own, as trained local technicians often leave for other opportunities once their skills are developed.
    • blueEnergy also trains others to implement its technologies through the Nicaraguan National Renewable Energy Association and the Global Wind Association, which it helped create, and through the new Center of Excellence, CERCA, and uses its internship program to inspire volunteers from wealthier countries to promote sustainable lifestyles

Financing

  • blueEnergy is financed entirely through grants and donations, and through a program where interested students and professionals pay to do an internship.
  • blueEnergy has an office in France devoted to fundraising, recruiting volunteers for Nicaragua and public education activities, such as lectures and wind turbine building workshops.
  • One financing challenge blueEnergy faces is that donors are often focused on the number of kilowatts installed, cost per kilowatt hour, or number of people affected, rather than on the long term sustainability of the installations or the holistic impact on beneficiaries.
  • This has sometimes made it hard to get funding for capacity building and community development activities that blueEnergy feels are essential to sustainably delivering energy solutions and creating impact.
  • blueEnergy has also faced recent challenges explaining its mission to donors who strongly associate it with its earlier work implementing wind turbines.

social impact

  • Rural Nicaragua, where blueEnergy’s community-based initiative operates, has very low levels of education and infrastructure.
  • blueEnergy has found that in this type of environment it is impossible to sustainably deliver energy solutions without including a great deal of capacity building and focus on community development.
  • Without a larger community focus, either the power system will not last due to lack of maintenance capacity or its benefit to the community will be minimal due to a lack of capacity to take advantage of it.
  • blueEnergy remains in contact with communities long after installation to assess and facilitate the impact of their systems.
  • Impact is measured in 3 ways-
    • Number of kw installed and people helped
    • Anecdotal narrative from community members as to how the installation has affected their lives
    • Anecdotal narrative from blueEnergy staff, who have a higher level perspective, about the impact of the system and its relative effect compared with installations in other communities.
  • blueEnergy’s global impact is achieved through its knowledge dissemination programs:
    • Renovables, the Nicaraguan renewable energy association
    • Wind Empowerment, the global wind power association, and
    • the Global Leadership student training program.

Human Resources

  • Finding and training people is a major challenge.
  • The low-infrastructure environment within which blueEnergy operates means both that the challenges faced are more complex and that the initial capacity to deal with them is lower, which means a great deal of training is necessary.
  • Many of blueEnergy’s staff members and interns are highly educated engineers, and sometimes the difference in backgrounds between trainers and community members can cause pride and communication challenges.
  • In addition to their technical team, which selects and develops their technologies, blueEnergy has a community relations department focused on implementation through a participatory methodology which tries to ensure that energy installations have the greatest holistic impact possible.

Scaling

  • blueEnergy scales in large part through encouraging replication and spreading its ideas and philosophy, through its three initiatives which work beyond the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua
  • blueEnergy’s leadership pipeline is designed to  inspire and train volunteers and staff to become leaders and mirror their work in existing and new organizations
  • blueEnergy also works to strengthen networks of partners that share their vision, so that they can be more effective in creating impact.

 

More Resources

Online Resources

Contact Information

blueEnergy
Nicaragua:
Barrio San Pedro, La Vuelta, Bluefields, RAAS
US: 972 Mission St., Suite 500, San Francisco, CA 94103
France: 32 rue Gandon, Paris

* Contact Form
( Nicaragua:+505 25722468
( US: +1 202 744 5840