Community managed micro hydropower systems are a key instrument for climate change mitigation and sustainable development at local scale.
Most homes in rural areas of the Dominican Republic live in poverty or even in extreme poverty. This situation becomes extreme for Haiti, where percentages are close to 100%. These conditions depend on the lack of basic services, such as electricity, which limits human development of people in a significant way.
The electrical supply is one of the main structural problems in the two Caribbean countries, due to high dependence on imported fossil fuels, low stability of the electrical system, poor quality and shortages.
Fortunately, Hispaniola Island has appropriate geographical, physiographic and climatic conditions for renewable energy generation, like hydropower generation at micro scale. Favorable and synergic circumstances stimulated a process that has proved to be an effective way to solve the lack of electricity for vulnerable populations in remote rural areas.
Since 2008, Guakía Ambiente has been working in tight alliance with the GEF Small Grants Programme and other national and international entities to accompany local communities in the installation of micro hydropower systems, which are self-managed by the own communities. Through this work, 48 community micro hydropower systems are now working in the Hispaniola Island, providing electricity to more than 4500 families and more than 20000 people, with an installed capacity of more than 1.3 MW.
Significant basins of the island are being protected as a result of the reforestation and conservation measures that beneficiaries are implementing to guarantee sustainability of water sources. More than 25000 tons of CO2 are avoided and/or absorbed each year. Furthermore, living conditions improve.
Community micro hydropower systems constitute a feasible and sustainable alternative. New communities have required support to evaluate the feasibility of a micro hydropower system in their area, while others are carrying out action to build their own system or develop enterprises from the use of electricity.
Is this proposal for a practice or a project?
What actions do you propose?
Community managed micro hydropower systems continue to be a valid alternative to provide isolated rural communities with electricity. Interventions are needed to reduce vulnerability of individual systems.
For the above mentioned reasons, our action is oriented to provide clean energy access to isolated rural populations, and contribute to the protection of the environment, at local, regional and global scale. The action aims to achieve the following specific objectives:
- To expand community micro hydropower generation, through the construction of 7 new systems, with an installed capacity of 450 kW and more than 1000 families benefited, and 5 feasibility studies carried out.
- To restore more than 300 hectares of land in upper basins, through reforestation and/or land restoration.
- To strengthen productive use of electricity, supporting the startup of at least 10 micro enterprises in beneficiary communities, as a productive use of the electricity generated through micro hydropower systems.
- To improve networking among community initiatives and reduce their vulnerability, strengthening the REDSER, the Dominican Network for the Sustainable Development of Renewable Energy.
The action will include the following main activities:
- Construction of 7 micro hydropower systems, with a total capacity of 450 kW and more than 1000 families directly benefited.
- Constitution of 7 community systems for the management of the installed micro hydropower systems.
- Production of 5 micro hydropower feasibility studies.
- Training of at least 14 local technicians in maintenance and repair of micro hydropower systems.
- Training of more than 500 people in environmental conservation and efficient use of energy.
- Reforestation and/or establishment of land restoration systems in more than 300 hectares in upper basins.
- Establishment of at least 10 local enterprises which use electricity produced by micro hydropower systems.
- Implementation of a sustainable system for the management of the REDSER.
The actions will be completed in a 3 year period.
In terms of technology used, 5 Pelton turbines, 1 Michell-Banki and 1 Turgo turbine will be installed. Each choice is based on an analysis of cost effectiveness, considering efficiency in function of specific site conditions.
The intervention will be implemented according to the innovative model based on community empowerment, developed by Guakía Ambiente in partnership with the GEF Small Grants Programme (GEF-SGP).
In fact, hydropower is not a new technology and it does not have any innovative element in itself. The real innovation consists of the way these systems are implemented and how they are managed in a community-based, sustainable way: the key innovation is the process itself.
These initiatives solve a basic need of local communities: the access to electricity. But more than this, beneficiary communities participate in a process which empowers them and lets them acquire better self-esteem and tools which allow them to develop more initiatives in the future. Development starts from a change of mentality, strengthening local organizations through joint work towards a common goal. This is achieved through the accompaniment of communities during the whole process, based on some key principles:
- Learning by doing: people learn from what they do and apply, facing big challenges and important obstacles, and finding the best solution to them.
- Solidarity and voluntary work, which contribute to create strong relationships and boost synergy among people and institutions.
- Environmental protection: during the process, people learn to use local resources for their sustainable maintenance, without damaging surrounding ecosystems.
- Autonomy: the whole process aims to community autonomy in managing the system and developing skills and capacities to implement further initiatives.
The starting point of each intervention is the genuine interest of beneficiaries, who have prioritized electricity as one of the problems needed to be solved in their communities. The work is carried out in a way that each person feels at ease with the process, participates actively in it and develops a sense of ownership and responsibility towards community action and the system itself. By focusing on the union that is essential to reach the common objective and encouraging the discovery of community capitals, empowerment of local group is promoted.
As part of promoting sustainability, environmental awareness of community is stimulated, at different scales. First of all, beneficiaries become aware of the importance of preserving forest cover in the area where they live, since it guarantees the stability of water flow for electrical generation. Secondly, from the local, people are educated with a global vision, so that they can see their actions projected in a wider context, where they are relevant and contribute to mitigate global problems, such as climate change.
Through these actions we expect to obtain significant impacts, in terms of social goals as well as environmental benefits. Specifically:
- As a general impact, living conditions improve. People have access to electrical appliances which make domestic life better:
- Women are the ones who benefit the most by having more free time to spend on other activities, such as education, hobbies and participation in social and political life. After micro hydropower system start-up, women do their domestic duties more rapidly and, on average, can count on 5 additional hours for other activities in comparison with the past.
- Household environment generally becomes cleaner and healthier, not only because families stop using candles and kerosene, but also because they invest more to improve it.
- Electricity opens the way to local enterprises, which improve family incomes and reduce migration rates to urban areas.
- From an economic perspective, there will be a significant benefit for the country as a whole: the generation of 3.9 GWh annually from a renewable source implies that the state saves more than 2290 Barrels of Oil Equivalent (BOP) per year, which would be necessary to produce the same amount of electricity, with a total annual saving of more than 220,000 USD.
- The projects also provide important savings at household level. As a matter of fact, before the intervention each family has to spend US$ 12–30 per month to buy kerosene gas, candles, and/or batteries. After the project, each family will pay 3–6 USD/month, and people have access to 4–9 times more electricity, which represents a saving for each family between 100 and 300 USD/year.
- With the joint action of clean generation and reforestation, more than 4600 tons of CO2 will be avoided and/or absorbed each year, with a significant impact in terms of climate change mitigation.
One of the key components of the action is the reinforcement of the REDSER, the Dominican entity that gathers rural communities under democratic and participatory schemes to provide them with access to electricity from renewable sources at local scale, as a coordinate effort, and knowledge and resource exchange among organizations and communities. The REDSER has become an important stakeholder in the discussion of national energy policy, representing community perspective in the use of renewable sources. Through the action contained in this project, we will continue this work through these specific actions:
- At least 3 technical courses will be carried out for capacity building of community technicians on management and repair of micro hydropower systems.
- A shop of spare and replacement parts has been started, in order to reduce the time each community must wait for repair in case of damage that involve specific imported components. Through the actions contained in this project, the management system of the shop will be improved and reach sustainability.
Cost of maintenance varies according to the specific site of implementation, depending on type of the system, water quality, as well as the exposure to different natural events. For ordinary maintenance of a 20 kW community micro hydropower system, annual cost is less than 2,000 dollars. Some projects, located in areas where water is rich in calcium carbonate, are dealing with problems of calcification of the system components and have to change some parts, like heatsinks, more frequently. An analysis of costs of maintenance is now being executed, to have details for each project.
Even though these projects produce very low environmental impacts, special attention is devoted to reduce any possible environmental negative externality, particularly in those basins that show a concentration of these systems. First of all, these projects have short pipelines and after generation water goes back to the river. Furthermore, during the phase of the feasibility assessment, water flow is carefully monitored, especially during dry periods. The design flow is normally established as 80% of the minimum measured flow, guaranteeing that water flow is conserved even in case of extreme drought.
The experience developed shows that reforestation and conservation associated to these projects contribute to an improvement of water flow and basin quality, sometimes allowing communities to install a bigger system.
Finally, improvement of community environmental consciousness implies that people start to implement better land use practices, which, on one hand, contribute to improve productivity and community incomes and, on the other, increase tree cover an reduce land degradation. Successful experiences are available in areas at the border between the two countries, where impacts of more than ten year interventions are now visible. In collaboration with the GEF-SGP, a specific case study is now being executed in order to quantify these impacts.
More than 10 year of experience in the implementation of these projects allowed us to identify some barriers we are working at in order to make these systems even more successful:
- Local capacity. Local capacity, both administrative and technical, is a key issue to guarantee sustainability of these initiatives. Poor education and isolation are typical issues in rural areas. These projects are a space where people can learn in a free environment, following their attitude and passion, and contributing to make communities more autonomous in the system management. Huge efforts are devoted to strengthen local capacity, with the support of numerous institutions.
- Local organization. Beyond the intrinsic difficulties of building the systems, where community effort is crucial to reach the expected results, the main challenge is to face social conflicts and contribute to strength community organization. This is a time demanding action, which needs post-project monitoring, during which communities area accompanied through the process of applying established rules, in the respect of their dynamics and times. The joint action between Guakía Ambiente and the GEF-SGP was a key element to assure this accompaniment and, with it, the sustainability of the initiatives.
- National policy. The support of national government is fundamental to guarantee that these initiatives are an option inside national energy policy. In the Hispaniola island, both the Dominican and the Haitian government have assumed the challenge to support these initiatives, whose model is now a reference internationally. More work is required to go beyond the political conjuncture of the specific moment. An important milestone in this respect was reached with the constitution of the REDSER and its recognition as a national entity participating in the definition of national energy policy.
Fund management. Guakía Ambiente and the GEF-SGP promote that funds are directly managed by local groups. Efforts must be devoted to extend this vision to other stakeholders, in order to strength local groups and increase cost-efficiency of interventions.
Who will take these actions?
To face this challenge, in partnership with the SGP, Guakía Ambiente created a multi-stakeholder model of intervention, where the joint action of numerous entities produced broader change and impacts, which catalyzed further progress in terms of human and sustainable development. Under common principles of community empowerment, the stakeholders that participate in this process continue their intervention in the benefited communities, contributing to improve sustainability. Each partner, following its own mission, supports specific actions in other areas, such as education, health and enterprises, contributing to the integral development of communities.
To support the actions included in this project we will count on numerous stakeholders. The main partners with their corresponding roles are listed below:
- Local communities: work labor, local coordination.
- Guakía Ambiente and the GEF SGP: coordination of the actions, technical and administrative support, accompaniment of local communities.
- Dominican institutions related to electricity (Rural and Suburban Electrification Unit - UERS, Dominican Corporation of State Electrical Enterprises - CDEEE, Hydropower Generation Enterprise - EGEHID, Dominican Institute of Hydraulic Resources - INDRHI, among others): construction of electrical grid, pipeline.
- Ministry of Environment: plants and supplies for reforestation and/or conservation.
- Fondo MARENA: funds.
- Popular Foundation, one of the main bank institutions of the country: funds, capacity building.
- Interamerican Foundation and other international agencies: funds.
Indeed, Guakía Ambiente was able to catalyze a multi-stakeholder platform, where entities that want to co-fund local initiatives but are unable to reach local groups are provided with a network to do so. This has allowed us to expand our actions and scale up initiatives.
Where will these actions be taken?
The intervention will be carried out in 20 communities in the Dominican Republic and 2 communities in Haiti.
Specifically, new systems will be built in the following communities:
- Guayajayuco (Dominican Republic, Elías Piña province): 75 kW, 250 benefited families.
- Los Montazos (Dominican Republic, La Vega province): 50 kW, 84 benefited families.
- Angostura - La Redonda (Dominican Republic, La Vega province): 135 kW, 150 benefited families.
- Los Limoncitos (Dominican Republic, La Vega province): 50 kW, 70 benefited families.
- Mahoma (Dominican Republic, San José de Ocoa province): 25 kW, 115 benefited families.
- El Palero (Dominican Republic, Santiago Rodríguez province): 100 kW, 300 benefited families.
- Los Guayuyos (Dominican Republic, Duarte province): 15 kW, 60 benefited families.
Actions will directly benefit more than 5000 people in poor mountainous villages.
Other five communities, in the Dominican Republic and the Northeastern part of Haiti will be benefited with feasibility studies, to establish whether or not a micro hydropower system can be installed in their area.
In addition, specify the country or countries where these actions will be taken.
No country selected
No country selected
No country selected
What impact will these actions have on greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?
As specified above, these actions will contribute to climate change mitigation in a significant way. As a matter of fact, with an installed capacity of 450 kW, micro hydropower systems will contribute to avoid the emission of more than 3900 tons of CO2 annually. The value was estimated considering that the same amount of electricity was produced through a diesel generator of the same power (CDM 2004; Gallardo et al. 2008; SunEarthTools, 2012).
Furthermore, beneficiary communities will work on the application of integral management plans in the river basins where these projects have been implemented. In order to guarantee the stability of water flow in the rivers where the micro hydro systems are established, local communities will reforest and/or establish conservation practices in more than 300 ha of mountainous areas. Considering a conservative mitigation rate of 2.5 CO tons per year (Brown 1996 ), these interventions account for an annual avoidance of more than 700 t of CO2. Therefore, implementation of these initiatives will help to reduce emission of gases that contribute to climate change by more than 4500 t of CO2 /year (calculation according to UNFCCC 2004).
As shown in the above analysis, micro hydro systems can contribute significantly toward mitigating climate change. However, the outcomes of these projects also support the view that micro hydro systems can also provide powerful important improvements in adaptive capacity for local communities. In fact, improved living conditions have a direct impact in terms of reduced vulnerability to climate change. With the increased access to electricity, people are more informed about extreme climate events, and in this way, they can prepare better to address them. Furthermore, generation of offgrid electricity helps the local community to be less vulnerable and more resilient, because they have control of their own system: any damage suffered from extreme climate events, for example from tropical cyclones, could be repaired by the community in the short term, a very different situation to that faced by other communities connected to the national grid.
Finally, adaptation is based on networking that has been built around these systems, at different levels. First of all, better communication, including access to Information Technology and Internet, offers people a platform to rapidly inform the community they belong about the state of the situation and obtain help. We have some good examples of this, based on communities that remained isolated after a cyclone but were able to communicate via Internet their state and ask for help. Secondly, networking with supporting entities allows a better and more cost-effective response to any emergency.
What are other key benefits?
As shown above, these initiatives have a direct impact on environment as well as on social and economic aspects at different scales.
We analyzed the positive impact that these interventions have on economy as a whole, since they produce a significant benefit for national states, which avoid the generation of the same ammount of electricity through imported fossil fuels as well as high investment to connect isoleted areas to national grid.
On the other hand, these initiatives provide important savings for benefited families, in terms of the money they spend to have access to a better source of energy.
These initiatives have also improved family wellbeing, particularly for women. In addition to the direct employment created within the communities for those who are responsible for operation and maintenance of the systems, women have
considerably reduced the time spent doing house chores, especially laundry. Similarly, these projects have facilitated the development of productive activities that require electricity, increasing income generation activities for sustainable livelihoods Families who are carrying out these activities increased their income by more than 50%. Furthermore, micro hydro systems have positive impacts on
children and young people, who improve education opportunities through more time to study and access to communication technologies. Additional social and economical impacts associated with these projects include financial stabilities? establishment of community funds, and new enterprise opportunities (PPS, 2011; 2012? Combariza Díaz, 2015).
These initiatives contribute with the achievement of SDG, specifically the 7th (Affordable and Clean Energy) and the 13th (Climate Action).
What are the proposal’s projected costs?
The costs for the implementation of the actions contained in this proposal are estimated in four millions USD.
Among the main challenges, Guakía Ambiente is working hard to strengthen the multi-stakeholder platform that supports these initiatives, to improve synergy around common objectives and principles of empowering people and local groups.
Furthermore, we are working to improve the strength and authonomy of the REDSER, as the main representative of communities' needs and perspective.
The impacts in the short-term were described before. These impacts are expected to continue in the medium- and long-term, when further benefits are expected, especially in terms of local development.
We are working in order to improve human development index of local communities, increasing the fan of alternatives they can choose autonomously. In the medium- and long-term perspective, these initiatives will contribute to improve local capacities and we expect that at least other three Community Based Organizations will be able to manage their own projects.
Finally, through the REDSER's platform, we are building a capacity building model based on the "University of the Field", which has the main objective to provide people in rural isolated areas with accademic education, while they follow scientific reasearch on specific matters related to land and environment.
About the author(s)
Michela Izzo (resident in the Dominican Republic) is a specialist in environment. She has a degree in Environmental Science and a master degree in Wind Engineering. In 2011 she obtained a PhD in Land and Environment. She has experience in developing environmental impact studies and feasibility studies related to renewable energy use at a local community scale. Since 2006 she has been collaborating as a volunteer with the GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP). In this period she has been developing a wide experience in educational processes, at a technical, academic and community level. She is competent in vulnerability studies, having worked in team and individually at analysis of land vulnerability to climate change and dynamics. She collaborates with different academic institutions, both national and international ones, on themes related to scientific investigation on land and climate and education. She is Executive Director of GUAKIA AMBIENTE. She will coordinate the implementation of the actions contained in this proposal, together with Alberto Sánchez.
Alberto Sánchez (resident in the Dominican Republic) is the National Coordinator of the GEF Small Grants Programme. Forest engineer, he has a huge exeperience in accompaning local communities in the execution of development projects. In the last 15 years he has contributed to build the innovative model of intervention linked to community micro hydropower systems.
Noris Araujo (resident in the Dominican Republic) is the Assistant of the GEF Small Grants Programme. She is an agronomist and has a huge experience in community managed initiatives and administration processes at different scales. She will be responsible for monitoring and evaluation of the initiatives, as well as fo capacity building.
María Guance (resident in the Dominican Republic) is the accountant of Guakía Ambiente and has a huge experience in capacity building directed to improve skills of local people in project accountability and management.
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What initiatives, policies, and technologies can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector?