Installing solar in the Peruvian Amazon with Light up the World

I just arrived back from a 3 week stint volunteering with Light up the World in Peru.  Light up the World is a non-profit specializing in community development through the design and implementation of renewable energy systems.  Most of their work is in developing micro PV lighting systems for individual homeowners where access to an electrical grid is not a possibility.  There is also a significant training component to LUTW‘s development work, helping to make the projects sustainable (locals able to service and repair the systems) and helping to grow the local renewable energy industry in these remote areas.  This project was a bit of a larger one for LUTW – outfitting 3 medical posts, 2 community centres and a school in three different remote villages in the Amazon.

Iquitos was our main staging area for the projects – a city of about 370,000 in the middle of the Peruvian Amazon jungle.  Iquitos is the largest city in the world without road access and yet, quite ironically, the streets are full of big trucks and smoggy moto-taxis (3-wheeled motorcycle taxis).  Iquitos also gets smoking hot: 40-47 Celsius with humidex most days!  We spent three days in Iquitos getting together the last of the electrical components, planning through the remaining logistical challenges and cooling off via ice cream in the day and cold cervezas on the shores of the amazon in the evenings.

Iquitos moto-taxi

Iquitos supply shopping
Rod and I shopping for electrical components in Iquitos

Light up the World had partnered with the municipality of Alto Nanay for these projects.  The municipality represents about 3500 people living along the river Nanay and its tributaries.  The river Nanay is one of the cleanest rivers in the Amazon, and the centre of life for the people of Alto Nanay.  The river is teaming with an abundance of delicious fish, is a source of drinking water for most, and the place to cool off in the afternoons or bath at night.

We arrived in the capital of Santa Maria after a 12 hour overnight slow boat ride upstream from Iquitos.  Santa Maria is a quaint riverside community of about 950 people and the staging ground for our work in the municipality.  Fabio from the municipality, lived in the community, and helped us to get settled.. starting first with a dip in the river to cool off.

Slow boat to Santa Maria

Slow boat to Santa Maria

Arriving in Santa Maria

The river Nanay and Fabio's neighbours

We started the training the next day with two representatives from each of the 3 villages (Santa Maria, Diamante Azul, and San Antonio) as well as representatives from the municipality.  Rod from LUTW is an excellent teacher and the two days of training seemed quite effective at passing along the basics of off-grid solar PV systems.  Follow up training sessions by LUTW at 6 months should further advance the knowledge base within the area and help to ensure the sustainability of the projects.

Fabio, Ada, Me and Rod
Fabio, Ada, Me and Rod

Solar training in Santa Maria

Solar training in Santa Maria
Training sessions in Santa Maria

Solar training in Santa Maria

Working with the students from the training we then went about installing the systems in Santa Maria, Diamante Azul, and San Antonio.

Santa Maria medical post

Diamante Azul medical post
Nemias and I in the scorching heat admiring our work.. I have great respect for the siesta after working through too many hot afternoons!

Attics are really hot in the jungle
Attics in the jungle are particularly warm.

Diamante Azul community centre solar

Unmatched hospitality!
Aristotles, Susanna, and Fabio – Aristotles and Susanna welcomed us to Diamante Azul with delicious armadillo and let us hammock in their living room at night.  Awesome hospitality!

Delicious armadillo

San Antonio football pitch
The football pitch in San Antonio where Soles ($) are won and lost – I came out even due to some fantastic footwork by our boatman Toribio.

The amazon
The winding Amazon river on the plane ride back to Lima.

All in all, the trip was an incredible experience.

I have a new appreciation for light – imagine getting home from work at 5 or 6 with only an oil lamp to cook or read by!  Imagine being a doctor trying to deliver a baby in a room lit by flashlights!

I also have a new appreciation for solar and what an incredible technology it is – how else would you provide reliable power to a medical post in the middle of nowhere?