Let there be light!

This is El Paraíso …

we all jumped into a hearty 4X4

to brave roads like this

which, for obvious reasons, had scared away traditional utilities providers. An alternative energy provider, Si El Sol, saw an opportunity

to partner with Prisma Honduras (a Kiva partner) to install solar panels like this one,

feeding cables from the roof

down to a battery, which charges as the panel above soaks up the sun.

Running high-voltage appliances (color TVs, for example) requires a inverter like this,

but in most homes, the battery simply powers switches like these

which turn on the lights!

Don Isidro demonstrates:

[the radio you hear in the background is also powered by Don Isidro’s new solar panel]

***

A month ago, members of the Las Selvas farming community outside of El Paraíso met in their church to discuss the possibility of bringing electricity into their homes. Traditionally they rely on “candiles” (gas/diesel-run lanterns) to light their homes after nightfall. But the fumes of fuel are unpleasant and unhealthy, and the supply is pricey and unpredictable. One man, Juan, suggested they look into solar panels. They know the sun to be strong and consistent – it allows them to cultivate their corn and coffee. And Juan had been successfully powering a television in his home with a solar panel for years.

Juan’s solar panel comes from a company called Si El Sol, which is working with Prisma to design power packages for Las Selvas residents. Prisma meets with and reviews the credit risk of Las Selvas clients, then gives the thumbs up to Si El Sol. Si El Sol installs solar panels, electrical cords, batteries, convertors, switches, and lights into homes, explains their uses and restrictions to clients, and offers a 30-year guarantee. Clients use the equipment for two weeks and report any problems to Juan, who is their liason to Si El Sol. Then Prisma officers visit the homes of the borrowers to check out how and whether the solar panels and all their attachments are working. And they are! So Prisma pays Si El Sol for the “plantas solares”, and has the clients sign loan contracts. The clients will make their repayments on the loan to Prisma.

Out of about 30 families represented at the initial meeting, only 8 decided to participate in the program. Theirs is a partially barter-run economy, so few families were comfortable with the idea of accumulating debt. And because they were investing in an unfamiliar product, the project appeared especially risky. After the first two weeks, though, only 1 out of 8 families had problems with their equipment. Theirs was a case of a malfunctioning light bulb, which Si El Sol will replace this week. The real gamble now is on the lender’s end, but Prisma is confident that the clients will repay promptly.

Meeting with the 8 families yesterday, they were very proud to show us the light switches in their well-lit bedrooms, to demonstrate how they plug their cell phone chargers into the battery, and to sing along with us to a song playing on the sun-powered radio.

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