Power to the Communities – Voices to a Conference

Power to the Communities – Voices to a Conference

The 2nd World Community Power Conference takes off in little less than two weeks in Bamako – Mali Folkecenter Nyetaa asked participants to share their expectations. The first one to do so is Mr. Gustavo Richmond-Navarro, Mechanical Engineer from Costa Rica with input from his colleague, Dr. Rolando Madriz-Vargas, Costa Rican Civil Engineer 

“On a global scale, community energy projects get more attention by energy access experts because of successful community-led pilot projects in Latin America and South Asia. These projects can be replicated in sub-Saharan Africa”.

Mechanical engineer Gustavo Richmond and colleague send this hopeful message to the 2nd World Community Power Conference that runs for three days as from 8 November in Bamako’s Hotel L’Amitié.

One tenet that Mr. Richmond of Costa Rica will express to the conference is that the world “needs more knowledge transfer between developing regions as well as capacity building” to reach a level where local communities control their own energy.

But such efforts need simultaneous support from international institutions and donor agencies.

In the process it is important to avoid “top-to-bottom approaches”. Instead “local leaders should have the initiative according to real needs and expectations”, says Mr. Richmond.

Currently the Costa Rican engineer is working on a research project to develop a wind turbine that can be run by rural populations. Part of the project is to engage beneficiary groups in the installation and maintenance of the system.

Mr. Richmond’s statement and his project reflect the idea behind the concept of Community Power, namely that local communities take charge of energy resources and the use of them.

Energy and power should not be controlled by large centralized companies or organisations to the extent it is today.

The Costa Rican case

Mr. Richmond brings with him evidence of good results from his home country which he can rightly be proud of:

In 2017 Costa Rica broke its own record from 2015 and provided electricity for the whole nation for more than 300 days, almost exclusively using renewable energy.

99 per cent of Costa Rica’s electricity came – and comes – from five renewable sources: hydropower (78%), wind (10%), geothermal energy (10%), biomass and solar (1%).

Mr.  Richmond: “Today, rural electrification (in Costa Rica, ed.) is almost 100% at country level, and rural communities have played a pivotal role in this achievement, in particular by using a mix of grid extension, small decentralized hydro power plants as well as solar energy”.

Rincon de la Vieja Volcano, Costa Rica supplies the Las Pailas Geothermal Power Plant as from 2013

Opportunities in Africa

But the two researchers, Richmond and Madriz-Vargaz are aware that the good results of their home country do not compare with Africa.

“Africa is lagging behind on electricity access in comparison with the rest of the world, in particular for remote and isolated communities”, say the researchers.

But: “There are opportunities in Africa to achieve higher levels of energy and electricity access at community level, if we, for instance, use small scale solar wind technologies”.

Mr. Richmond points to the abundance of natural resources in Africa that could be brought to use, but warns that development is urgent, with “the increasing demand for energy at house level”.

In shorthand: The growing populations and the growing middle classes need increasing volumes of energy.

Mr. Richmond’s idea for a global sustainable community power model is to focus on “a collective of hybrid operator models”. For Africa, “mini-grids” could be useful as they “are more likely to improve rural livelihoods”.

To this end “community activists, local NGOs and researchers must play a crucial role for project design and hands-on execution together with local populations.

This method is an important factor if community power projects shall be successful for the poorest in developing countries, including in Costa Rica, state the two researchers, Mr. Richmond and Dr. Madriz-Vargas.

Gustavo Richmond Navarro

Short CV for Gustavo Richmond-Navarro, Costa Rica:

M.Sc. degree in mechanical engineering from the Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile, 2014. Mr. Navarro is currently pursuing a Ph.D. degree with the Universidad de Costa Rica, San José, Costa Rica. He is Associate Professor with the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica, Cartago, Costa Rica. His research interests include small scale wind energy, plasma energy, numerical methods, and CFD simulation.———-

Read about the positive developments in Costa Rica here:

Hydropower or water power is power from energy of falling water or fast running water.

Geothermal energy is “thermal energy” generated and stored in the Earth. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermal_energy

Biomass (from Wikipedia) “is an industry term for getting energy by burning wood, and other organic matter. Burning biomass releases carbon emissions but has been classed as a renewable energy source in the EU and UN legal frameworks, because plant stocks can be replaced with new growth”.

mini grid (from Energypedia.info) also sometimes referred to as a « microgrid or isolated grid« , can be defined as a set of electricity generators and energy storage systems interconnected to a distribution network that supplies electricity to a localized group of customers.

CFD (from Wikipedia) : “Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) is a branch of fluid mechanics that uses numerical analysis and data structures to solve and analyse problems that involve fluid flows are used to perform the calculations required to simulate the interaction of liquids and gases with surfaces defined by boundary conditions”.

Read more about Costa Rica here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Costa_Rica

Top picture: Wind mills at Tierra Morneas Lac Arenal, Costa Rica

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