In the developed world, we perceive renewable energy technologies as the means of moving us away from pollution-spewing sources of electricity generation. In many parts of the developing world, though, renewables often provide the most efficient means of producing power in places that have never had it. In the Comunidad Nueva Alianza, a small village in El Palmar, Guatemala, the recent installation of a micro-hydro system now provides electricity to 40 households for the first time ever.
The project was completed by XelaTeco, a business incubated in 2005 by the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group. AIDG points to XelaTeco as their first success in supporting the creation of a business in the developing world that "...[provides] the rural poor with renewable energy and clean technologies that meet their basic needs." According to AIDG's press release,
Before the existence of XelaTeco, ... an isolated village like the Comunidad Nueva Alianza (CNA) had few options for getting electricity, let alone renewable energy. Due to their remoteness, an electric grid extension was years if not decades away. The high and volatile cost of diesel in Guatemala made reliance on electric generators impractical. The concrete shell of an old micro-hydroelectric system existed at the community. Unfortunately, no providers could completely rebuild it at a price that CNA could afford.The organization's annual report for 2006 (in PDF) provides a detailed timeline of the year-and-a-half project, and notes that XelaTeco can do much more than micro hydro: the small company also produces biodigesters, windmills, high efficiency stoves, pumps, water filters, and solar LED lighting systems.
When it burst onto the scene in August 2005, XelaTeco filled a much-needed niche. It was a new breed of business in Guatemala that manufactures, installs and repairs green technologies for people living between $2-4 a day, development agencies and institutions. Because XelaTeco could locally manufacture many essential, yet very complex components for much less than their purchase price in U.S. or European markets, it became the CNA's leading choice of contractor.
XelaTeco demonstrates that a combination of NGO funding, appropriate technology and entrepreneurialism can make a real difference to developing communities. Sustainable development is often presented as an expensive luxury by skeptics: the residents of the CNA would probably respond that, in this case, green thinking provided an affordable alternative for improving their quality of life. ::XelaTeco and the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group
Photo source: AIDG