Brazil is a country of inequality, shown in many different forms, such as the fact that around almost 2 million Brazilians do not have access to regular electrical power, especially the ones living in remote areas, isolated from the urban centers. The communities living those areas the electricity is usually provided by fossil fuels, which makes it expensive and insufficient. The logistical cost to take fuels to these communities is high, and the expenses in the operation and maintenance of the generators only adds to the bill.

When everything has a time to start and end because of electricity, it is difficult. The operation of equipment to store food, like refrigerators, is impossible. This is a problem for the community of Médio Purus, in the Amazon region, that depends on the production of oils, fruit processing and fished commodities.

In this scenario, WWF-Brazil is now implementing a project for photovoltaic solar power, with the purpose of improving the quality of life and income of those affected by the irregular access to electricity. The project started in 2016 and is a partnership with the Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade (ICMBio) and has the technical support from Usinazula and Instituto Mamirauá, as well as the institutional support from Schneider Eletric, J.A. Solar, UEA and the city of Lábrea.

The first step was to make the technical and scientific knowledge available to all. On April 27th was released the publication Usos de Sistemas Energéticos com Fontes Renováveis em Regiões Isoladas (The uses of Renewable Energy Systems in remote areas) on the University of the State of Amazonas (UEA), in the Lábrea campus. The idea behind the study was to inform the local communities on the subject of renewable energy systems, which improves the quality of life for the communities and helps the maintenance of forests.

The study lists solutions tested in Brazil and approved by the local inhabitants, such as the use of solar energy in the ice production, in the extraction of vegetable oil, nut processing, water pumping and purification. The study also includes technical specifications, average cost for every kind of application and size of systems and funding sources already available in Brazil.

The second step in the project happed in the first week of July, when the first photovoltaic system installation took place in a school in the community of Cassianã, Médio Purus extractivist community, on the Lábrea municipality. It is very difficult to access this municipality, located in the south of the Amazonas State, and with 38 thousand inhabitants, it is only possible by plane or boat. To get there you have to fly 40 minutes or drive 400 kilometers on the Transamazônica road (BR 230) from the city Porto Velho (Rondônia State). The other option is a two and a half hour flight and five days in a boat from the city of Manaus (Amazonas State). In both cases, you still have to take a speedboat to the extractivist community that will take from 40 minutes to a whole day.

The solar energy in this school is going to allow 60 students to have uninterrupted night classes – sometimes students would be up to 3 days without classes, due to lack of fuel for the generator. Now it is also possible to have fans in the classroom to appease the heat and control the presence of mosquitos, also making it possible to access the internet and to have proper illumination. In addition to an R$ 450.00 of savings per month, that were used to pay for the fuel. Another important gain is the end of the noise that the generator made, which was bad for the concentration of the students, and harmful for the teachers’ voice. 

Men work on installing solar panels on a one-floor house with white wooden walls. One of the men is on the roof, squatting down and facing the left side of the photo. There is another man climbing up a rustic wooden ladder, towards the rooftop, with his back to the camera. The others are spread out around the area. Most of them are wearing identical green t-shirt as a uniform. The house has a white wooden fence on the edge of its front porch. In the background is a clear blue sky.

Photovoltaic system installation in the in the Médio Purus extractivist community in the Lábrea municipality (Alessandra Mathyas / WWF-Brazil)

“The fuel was used only for the days that we had class. Now we will have more time and light to study. We think it will be possible to even have a printer!,” says the student Francisca Souza. “Not having the noise of the generator is already a dream, is priceless. Some nights I left without a voice,” says the professor Cicleude Barroso.

People wearing identical green t-shirts as a uniform pose for a photo holding up certificates. Behind them is a light blue wooden wall, with a whiteboard hanging on it along with some posters that are out of focus. The floor is made of dark wood.

Students with their certificate on the course on photovoltaic solar energy (Alessandra Mathyas / WWF-Brazil)

Also in July, technicians from the Program Quality of Life from the Mamirauá Institut, in Tefé (Amazonas state), gave a course on photovoltaic solar energy to residents of Médio Purus and Ituxi, both on the Lábrea municipality. The 40 hours course included basic principles of electricity, renewable and non-renewable sources, how to plan and project solar power, its basic principles and community management of social technologies. All students that participated were given a certificate and the knowledge received will allow them to make their own future installations, with the supervision of a WWF technician.

The second phase of the project is already scheduled! Between the 18th and 22nd of September, WWF-Brazil will return to the same reservation for the photovoltaic system installation in a new school, as well as a water pumping system. 86% of the inhabitants from this reservation need to get water directly from the river using gallons. However, with this new water pumping system, a large number of people will not have to do this any longer.

Workers wearing identical green t-shirts as a uniform pose for a photo, filling up the front stairs and porch of a white wooden house on stilts. The ground has short grass. In the background is a clear and sunny blue sky.

Photovoltaic system installation in the in the Médio Purus extractivist community in the Lábrea municipality (Alessandra Mathyas / WWF-Brazil)

“With this, the extractivist community believes that they will be able to increase production, get better prices and have a more dynamic communal life, with schools that will also work as centers for distance-learning courses in technology, as well as living spaces in the weekends,” comments the WWF-Brasil’s Climate Change & Energy Program analyst, Alessandra Mathyas.