Matheus Villa, a resident of Morro da Babilônia (Leme, Rio de Janeiro), saw his life change after a professional training program to install photovoltaic panels. Soon after the course, held in 2021, he installed 420 solar panels at a plant in Rio de Janeiro and he has also worked on projects in São Paulo. “I used to work with tourism but I am now focused on sustainable energy, because there is a large and growing demand and very little skilled labor. Furthermore, I am learning other skills with the NGO, as a building electrician, which I am just about to complete.”
The NGO he refers to is Revolusolar, which is a non-profit organization founded in 2015 as a result of the union and experience of some volunteer solar energy technicians and engineers with leaders from the Morro da Babilônia, which has suffered from difficult access to quality electricity. Matheus is not the only one who has witnessed a true revolution. “A solar plant in Cabo Frio or Búzios is easy. I wanted to see one in the favela,” says Valdinei Medina excitably. He is the community ambassador for Morro da Babilônia and Chapéu Mangueira and his words are justified and express her knowledge about the cause. Medina is a volunteer at Revolusolar and she and the residents can be proud of themselves: the community now has the first solar cooperative in a favela in Brazil.
The executive director and co-founder of Revolusolar, Eduardo Avila, explains that, initially, a few solar energy panels were installed, and, little by little, the project gained more structure. Beyond the installation, the NGO works in other related areas, with a program for the education, engagement and training of residents, and the awareness-raising of children with socio-educational activities and cultural events, among others.
“In 2021, with the support of iCS, we finally built the first solar cooperative in a community in Brazil, which was an old dream. It was the actual residents who installed it, educating the cooperative members of the community. Our intention is to make the transition to self-management, leaving there and installing solar panels in other communities, which we have already started to do, repeating the model of community and sustainable development. We call this process a solar cycle: installation, energy efficiency, professional training and cultural and educational activities,” he says.
Families and business have benefited
The creation of the cooperative has produced practical results in the reduction of the electricity bills of, currently, 34 families, who are connected to the distributed generation of the solar panels with the electric energy provider in Rio de Janeiro. With the support of iCS, it has been possible to systematize the process and the lessons learned from this pilot project in order to guarantee input for the replication of the model of inclusion and social justice allied to sustainability.
“People believe that in the favela we do not pay electricity bills but this is simply not true. We receive estimated charges, which can produce very high bills for some people. There are people here who pay more than someone who lives on Avenida Atlântica [one of the wealthiest areas of the city].[uma das mais nobres áreas da cidade]
As Revolusolar volunteers, we help to democratize the awareness of solar energy. This project goes far beyond just introducing solar panels. Residents from the community, who before used to sell snacks or popsicles on the beach, for example, and had to stop due to the high prices, were able to return to work. Once they join the cooperative, they receive a discount on their electricity bills and are able to use the freezers and the other equipment that is required to sell these products again,” says Valdinei.
To be part of the cooperative that receives the solar energy, it is necessary to comply with certain requirements; one of them is to be up to date with the bills from the energy provider. Before its existence, however, the panels installed by the leaders and residents, under the supervision and funding of Revolusolar, had already changed the lives of Babilônia and Chapéu Mangueira. In 2018, for example, the Escolinha Tia Percilia was able to resume its activities by saving almost R$ 7,000 per year on energy, which was enough to buy teaching materials for the students and to formalize other partnerships.
The Babilônia Rio Hostel, run by Bela (the nickname of Rosana da Silva), is another beneficiary. The headquarters of the NGO, the hostel has been using solar energy for six years, and has reduced its electricity bill by almost 50%. “We were the first to use solar energy in the region, and then others managed to do the same. Many people speak highly of it. It’s great to be sustainable and also to benefit from it,” she says.
The sun also produces energy in the Amazon
It was 1987 when the Health and Happiness Project (PSA), which is a non-profit civil initiative, began to work with communities in the Brazilian Amazon. It promotes and supports participatory processes of integrated and sustainable community development. These are capable of making a demonstrative contribution in the improvement of public policies, in the quality of life and in the exercise of citizenship of the served populations.
Coordinated by the brothers, Caetano Scannavino Filho and Eugênio Scannavino Neto, the Health and Happiness Project works with dozens of projects and helps more than 30,000 people. Inside the Tapajós-Arapiuns Extractive Reserve, in Pará, they have installed a center in the Carão community with a nursery for the production of seedlings, demonstration units and a training center for solar electricians, among other projects.
Joelma Lopes lives in this community and she is a member of one of the families benefiting from the installation and generation of solar energy. “It was very good for all the residents. Before, we used a diesel generator. We didn’t have energy all night and, because we live in the forest, there was the danger from snakes and scorpions, which made life very difficult. Now we can leave the light on all night if we want to. We can increase the power and have a freezer and a larger television. It’s really good,” she says.
That is not all. Without diesel emissions, pollution has improved. The Health and Happiness Project also provides support in other areas, such as reforestation and training for residents of the Extractive Reserve to clear land without burning, reducing the area of fire in the forest, among other projects.
The sun is providing clean electricity from the southeast right up to the north!