Combined pico-hydro and PV systems for the electrification of 10 communities in the Andes

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Combined pico-hydro and PV systems for the electrification of 10 communities in the Andes

To demonstrate the benefits of renewable energies for generating electricity in isolated areas in Peru

In this rural electrification project a both solar PV and pico-hydro systems were implemented in a total of 10 communities in the Cajamarca Region of Peru. The aim of the project was to improve both the standard of living of more than 400 families and also the health care and education in the area through the electrification of schools and health posts. Prior to the technical implementation of the project, surveys were carried out amongst the communities and residents were consulted about their priorities for electricity use. As a result of this research, along with data on the availability of streams and budget considerations, the decision was taken to install one pico-hydro scheme in the community of Balcones, to provide energy for domestic use in 31 homes, as well as for 2 schools, a health post and a community building. Additionally, 15 Photovoltaic Systems (PVS) would be installed in schools, health posts and community centres in nine other communities. One of the major activities during the implementation stage of the project was to develop technical and managerial skills within the communities, in order that each community would be able to own and operate the project on an economically sustainable model. In each village a committee was chosen to manage the finances and collect payments. The project team focused heavily on non-technical aspects, as experience shows that these are the most likely reasons for a project to fail. A few months after the project was complete, and again after three years, the technical and social aspects and, in particular, all matters relating to the management of the service were evaluated in order to learn lessons for future projects.

Technology, Operations and Maintenance

In order to reduce dependence on external factors and to lower costs – and to make the project more feasible for implementation in poor areas - the pico-hydro system was primarily constructed from locally manufactured components. The hydropower system has a gross head of 98 meters and a design volume of 18 lts/seg. It generates 9kW and, therefore, provides electricity for all of the 31 households, small businesses, schools and a health post in the community of Balcones. The houses are connected to a mini-grid installed with self-supporting cables. In addition, every home in the settlement has been supplied with an energy control system, to prevent the excessive use of power. One or two people in each community have been trained to operate and maintain the systems. The solar PV systems installed included 60-85W panels, controllers, inverters, and deep-cycle batteries. The energy use includes 11W and 15W compact florescent lights, cell phones, radios and, in the case of schools, a TV/DVD system. The project included the provision of a range of educational DVD programs, such as "The Human Body", multiplication, and folklore from the various cultures of Peru. Several school systems also light up the housing areas for teachers from other areas who come to work and live in these rural communities.

Financial Issues and Management

The average project cost for each solar community is estimated to be at € 6,546 and the micro-hydro with home electrification at € 26,556. The costs include all equipment, installation, training, community work and administration. The Municipality of Chirinos and its communities contributed a quarter of the total project costs. After the project was completed, the Municipality became the legal owner of the systems but signed a contract of concession to the community for management. The community in turn elects an Operation and Management Unit (OMU) to provide the service, do maintenance and collect the monthly fee (10 soles a month = ~$ 3 per household). There is also a supervising committee of users for oversight of the OMU. In some communities, the solar school systems are now managed by the Association of Parents and the teachers of the school, while in other communities there is an independent "Light Committee“. After 4 years of operation, there is an average of 255 soles (~€ 70) in each community's solar maintenance account. The funds have been raised by charging a small fee for community members to charge cell phones off the system, showing movies at the school house, organizing events, selling snacks at the school, and in one community, providing micro-loans (with interest) from the maintenance fund.

Environmental Issues

The replacement of oil lanterns for lighting and batteries for radios and other applications with electricity from solar and hydro power has led to the reduction of 32,070 kg CO2 emissions per year.

Social Issues

The project focused on using existing local skills and local organizations to implement, operate and manage the systems. The participation of the population throughout the implementation process was encouraged to ensure the sustainability of the project after the departure of the project team. The electrification of households, schools and health clinics provides opportunities to read and learn after nightfall, improved communication with cell phones, broader educational opportunities as well as facilitating improved medical care.

Results & Impacts

421 families – an estimated 2100 people -- have gained access to electricity (31 of these from the pico-hydro scheme), which has significantly improved the quality of life in the communities. The bottom-up implementation approach has promoted local leadership and community decision-making. The project can serve as an example of an appropriate development model that could be replicated in village-scale renewable energy projects. The project was also the first joint solar installation of these two partners, so the projects also served as an opportunity to build technical skills and lay the groundwork for a partnership with has flourished in the years since.


This development model could be replicated in other rural communities both in Peru and other developing countries. In Peru's northern Andes, for example, approximately 800,000 inhabitants have no access to electricity or other modern energy services. The modular design technology, the short timeframe that is required for the implementation, and links to poverty alleviation and rural economic development are also positive reasons to replicate this project in other parts of the world.

Lessons learned

An evaluation after four years of operation showed that the degree of management organization varied greatly between the nine communities. Where there was a strong organization (the Parent's Association, teachers or a committee) the system continued to function and there were small sums for maintenance costs. However, in some of the communities with weaker management, raising the funds for the operation and maintenance of the system has been a problem. In fact, where there was weak management, two of the panels were stolen. Although the financial responsibilities were agreed and certified in each community, many people have made no monthly contributions. Because of this, future projects should identify fund-raising mechanisms and, if necessary, involve the municipality. Another lesson learned is that awareness raising amongst the users with regards to the advantages of renewable energy, as well as its limitations, is very important.. The picro-hydro project extends electricity to each household, the solar projects were designed just for communal uses. While communal uses, such as schools, can provide benefits, communities seem to prefer home electrification, and are more agreeable to pay for the service. Of course electrification of each household would multiply the scale of the project and budget requirements. In future projects an in-depth assessment of the pros and cons of providing domestic energy vs. communal uses should be evaluated. Long term monitoring showed that the electricity at the rural health posts is infrequently used because medical staff only visit these rural communities once a month– and only in the daytime. There are community- based health promoters, with access to the health posts, but their homes are at quite a distance walking from the health posts, so they rarely walk to the health post at night to get supplies to treat a sick person. For future projects, the electrification of health posts only make sense if there is permanent staff, equipment such as vaccine refrigerators or sterilization equipment and a regional health system that will supply the vaccines. The greatest uses turned out to be the charging of cell phones of many people in the communities and the use of the DVDs for education and training. Finally, the grid may arrive in the next few years, but since the inception of the project, the community representatives signed a contract that the solar systems could be used on farther off villages in the case that the grid arrives. In the case of the micro-hydro, the community is considering connecting it to the grid, or using it independently for coffee processing.