Renewable energy projects have proved very successful in indigenous territories and with good reason. Using diesel to generate electricity and to power transport leaves isolated communities vulnerable to fuel shortages as well as potentially toxic spills and leakages. Improvements in technology have meant that solar energy solutions have become cheaper and more viable. The resultant energy sovereignty can revitalize communities, enhancing and preserving their traditional way of life while having a low impact on the environment.
The Novo Futuro Solar project was carried out in 2015 in the village of Novo Futuro, situated in the indigenous Kaxinawá municipality of Humaitá in the Acre region of Brazil. The village was divided into three sectors and a photovoltaic lighting module was installed in each sector. The objective was to provide lighting to all village dwellings and communal areas such as the dining hall, school, eco-toilets, the ceremonial maloca (shubuã), guest houses and the most frequently used public paths. The project leaders also installed a central hub in a purpose-built house to be used specifically for the use and charging of electronic equipment as well as a storage space for spares and equipment.
Solar energy systems are comprised of different types of equipment of varying sensitivity. The Unisolar photovoltaic laminate panels used in this installation have a lifespan of at least 25 years. Other electronic components such as batteries, controllers and power inverters are generally quite reliable but can be more susceptible to adverse conditions and outbreaks. Therefore, we opted for stationary batteries with self-protection systems that are particularly robust, although their lifespan is only 6 years, depending on the usage level. The final design and choice of components we used were based on professional advice and from observing the results of other projects in similar regions.
As this is a significant technological step for the community, we have implemented an educational programme for the village to ensure that the equipment is used safely and correctly. The two main concerns are causing damage by overloading the inverters and battery overuse, which can significantly impact the lifespan. Because of the remote location of the village and its environmental context within the rainforest, the programme will also provide sufficient technical training to enable the village to independently carry out minor maintenance. The system is designed to require minimal regular maintenance, but there is still the likelihood of misuse or natural accidents, such as falling trees or buildings, strong winds, prolonged heavy rain, humidity, lightning and animal intervention. At least in the early years, it is expected that an external technician will visit the village on an annual basis to ensure the system is working optimally. Since the installation in 2015 there have been no major failures and the system remains, for the most part, in complete operation.
A second phase for the Novo Futuro Solar Project was initiated in October 2016 to review an expansion of the solar system to include new dwellings built in the recent expansion of the village plus the additional buildings that were completed for the 3rd annual Festival Huni Kuin Eskawatã Kawayai, which took place last November. The current system is running close to and occasionally above the recommended capacity and additional maintenance plus battery replacements will be necessary during the next visit. The second phase also included the installation of a solar pump in the village water well to replace the petrol generator, which apart from being a pollutant was both costly and time-consuming to run.
A follow-up technical visit is planned for October 2017.