Community-based Solar Power

The Network of Community Initiatives (RICO) and the Observatory of Political Ecology of Venezuela (OEP), with the support of the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Andean Region, developed a pedagogical methodology on self-managed community projects in solar energy. The process emphasizes reflection on basic concepts such as ‘energy’ and ‘work’, which allows the discussion to be situated in the realities of the territory. From this common base, an analysis of the functioning of the energy system at the macro level is made, culminating in the establishment and execution of a roadmap for the implementation of solar energy in community processes. Participants also receive training in the technical, economic and legal areas of self-generation. The process seeks to train and inspire future multipliers and replicators, with the ultimate goal of strengthening the energy sovereignty of communities, from a comprehensive understanding. 

The first iterations of the process took place in March 2020 in three cities in Venezuela: Barinas, Barquisimeto and Caracas. These consisted of four modules each, which introduced the concepts and practices of solar energy from a community-based approach, while problematising the socio-environmental elements and dynamics of the current Venezuelan mining and energy model. In total, the workshops were attended by around 50 people, representing diverse actors: the CECOSESOLA Network, Tiuna El Fuerte, the Ateneo Popular de los Chaguaramos, and the communities of Carora, Humocaro Alto, 5 de Marzo, El Tauca, and a Kariña indigenous community. 

Why Solar Power?

Our objective is to strengthen energy sovereignty in the communities we work with; this does not only mean having reliable access to electrical energy. Sovereignty also means having decision-making power over the forms in which it is produced, and responsibility over its consumption. With this in mind, photovoltaic technology is very attractive to communities, considering its low cost, as well as its modularity. This means that photovoltaic systems are sold in many sizes and capacities, allowing their owners to easily decide on their specific use.

Proceso

The participants get to know each other and establish joint rules for dialogue and participation. Through some first exercises of self-recognition and Community Mapping, a first diagnosis of the community is made, identifying important points, problematic places and priorities for intervention. The products of this first module will guide the reflections throughout the process.

This module seeks to generate a comprehensive reflection on energy in all its forms, in the context of the community. It seeks to map all forms that energy takes (mechanical, chemical, solar, wind, etc.) and the places where it manifests itself in the community. From this reflection, we move on to a first analysis of the historical transformation of energy uses in the last hundred years, arriving at a preliminary critique of the centralized models of electricity generation.

Based on the above reflections, participants complement the community maps in the first module, emphasizing the processes that consume and produce energy. Afterwards, the general characteristics of solar photovoltaic energy are discussed, as well as its potential and limitations. 

From the above discussions, ideas are beginning to emerge about the integration of photovoltaic energy into various community processes. In this module, participants set priorities, and take stock of current resources and opportunities for achieving them. A roadmap is then established for the following modules, and other activities related to the process.

In this module, participants identify and discuss the possible legal and socio-economic dynamics of photovoltaic self-generation projects. This includes issues such as: generation and consumption scheme (solar energy cooperative/household generation), legal status (civil society/private), cost and income distribution, decision making and conflict resolution.

In this module, participants receive an introductory training on the technical aspects of photovoltaic energy, emphasizing the relevant elements for the elaboration of a self-generation project. This includes topics such as: How to measure electricity consumption? What types of photovoltaic systems exist, and which one is appropriate for my project? Where and under what conditions can a solar panel be installed?

With their technical knowledge, and an understanding of the relevant legal and socio-economic dynamics, participants develop self-generation projects that feed on photovoltaic energy.

In the last module, the installation of the photovoltaic systems is carried out in the community, together with the participants. At the same time, participants learn about the general functioning of the system, as well as how to do regular maintenance of the panels. 

In order to guarantee the sustainability of these processes in the long term, we believe it is essential to develop the knowledge and technical qualifications for the installation of solar panels. However, we cannot offer complete technological training in the operation of photovoltaic systems. For this reason, we are interested in establishing a partnership with educational institutions in order to train two or three people per community. These will be in charge of the installation and specialised maintenance of the equipment, while also being able to replicate certain elements of the pedagogy in neighbouring communities.

Documents

Below you will find the documents we have produced so far in relation to our Learning Process “Community and Self-Management Solar Energy”.

Final activity report 
“Cooperative and Autonomous Solar Energy Network”
RICO | EPO Venezuela | Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Andean Region
23 February – 07 March 2020