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Remote Argentinian villages get sustainable heat, power, and hot water from the sun

Page history last edited by Rosemary 9 years, 6 months ago

Thousands of meters above sea level, 30 small communities in the Andean high plains in northern Argentina are on their way to becoming ‘solar villages’, reports Marcela Valente for Tierramérica. People are learning that clean and inexhaustible solar energy can replace increasingly scarce firewood, thanks to the work of the EcoAndina Foundation in north and northwestern Jujuy province.

The first "solar village" is Lagunillas del Farallón, with work ongoing to add the towns of Ciénaga de Paicone, Cabrería, Paicone, Cusi Cusi, San Juan y Oros, La Ciénaga, San Francisco, Casa Colorada and Misa Rumi, all located in the Argentine Puna at altitudes of 2,700 to 4,600 meters above sea level.  The vast Andean Altiplano, which is shared by Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru, is very dry and receives more sun than almost anywhere else in the world.

Twenty years ago, EcoAndina began work in Misa Rumi, where the “Ecohuasi” was built in 1989, patterned on the "Freiburger Ökozentrum" project in Germany. The house, built completely from local and nearby materials and powered by solar energy and wind power, has been an ecological research centre for the project since August 1997 and today is also the registered office of the EcoAndina Foundation. The centre is equipped with hot water, solar cookers and a solar powered oven.

In its early years, EcoAndina was a loose group of people who shared the goal of preserving the Andes region’s natural resources while also protecting the livelihood of local people and their cultural heritage. Over the past 20 years, EcoAndina has introduced, tested and optimized adapted solar technologies and drinking water systems in the context of regional rural development in the Argentinian Puna, supported by municipal funding and donations.

Now, solar ovens cook as effectively as gas ovens, and families can now have heat and hot water in their homes, while students learn in classrooms warmed by solar panels and powered by photovoltaic panels. Some 400 solar energy units have been installed in schools, common dining rooms and neighbourhood centres in 30 towns in the region, including 300 solar kitchens for families, 25 box-like solar heaters, 50 solar ovens for heating water, 15 common solar kitchens, 9 indoor heating systems, and eight solar ovens. The stoves are manufactured in the region at low cost, with parabolic stoves made with highly polished aluminum being the most widely used.

"Our work is focused on offering thermal energy alternatives to firewood and gas to about 30 villages," EcoAndina president Silvia Rojo explained to Tierramérica. Traditionally, the Puna population used three types of plants for firewood: tolas, queñoas and yaretas – but this has led to serious desertification, the loss of species and damage to watersheds. The Foundation’s research shows that one solar oven cuts household firewood consumption by 50 to 70%. The other choice, propane gas sold in 10 kilogram tanks, is very expensive.

EcoAndina believes a solar generator could supply electricity to all of Jujuy province without producing emissions or pollution, and at nearly zero production cost, Rojo says. If finalized, it would be the first in Latin America, though Brazil and Chile are also pursuing similar projects. "It would not be able to cover all the tiny towns in the north of the province because they are so dispersed, but they already have community photovoltaic systems in each town," Rojo said.

EcoAndina also has restored eight hectares of old cultivated land using solar pumps and drip irrigation, and has developed four reed bed sewage plant which clean waste water so it an be used for drip irrigation.

This story was prepared from two sources: a story entitled Solar Villages Light Up in the Andes by Marcela Valente, datelined Buenos Aires Dec. 7, 2009, and distributed by Tierramerica, and the website of the EcoAndina Foundation. The pictures come from the photo gallery on the EcoAndina website.


TIERRAMERICA is a specialized news service on the environment and development, produced by the international news agency IPS - Inter Press Service. The Tierramérica multimedia service includes a weekly page published in a network of 25 Latin American newspapers, radio bulletins broadcast by 400 stations, and electronic content distributed worldwide by IPS. This service is sponsored by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nation Environment Program (UNEP).


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