Over the past few weeks I have been in dialogue with Professor Luis Blasques (member of the alternative energy group GEDAE in Belém, who visited Cabelo Seco in October to launch our solar energy intervention) about our plan to construct a solar powered bike-radio. Luis drew up a design and gave us recommendations about the components we would need to purchase. The small amplifier we will use as a speaker system arrived last week and we have ordered the solar module, charge controller and inverter from a company based in São Paulo. They are estimated to arrive by the end of this week. We plan to buy the battery for the system in Marabá because it will be faster and possibly cheaper. To give you a better idea of what this will look like, below is an image of the design Luis created.
In Sunday’s solar energy workshop, we split the small group into two pairs and sent them out into the community to take pictures. Their assignment was to photograph a response to the following question: what will be preserved with solar energy? They were additionally asked to photograph potential locations to film a short movie on solar energy. This was an excellent idea on Dan’s behalf because it gave the young people the opportunity to extract a more profound and abstract understanding of the benefits of solar energy, rooted in concrete examples in Cabelo Seco. The result was extremely interesting. When each pair returned, we projected the photos on the wall and they explained their thought processes. The first pair presented a series of photographs predominantly featuring negative aspects of the community that would hypothetically disappear with the implementation of solar energy. Their first photo showed a grotesque amount of litter disintegrating on the riverbank below the boardwalk. They explained that litter would be reduced with the arrival of solar energy because people will become more environmentally responsible and conscious of their actions. I wondered whether this idea was sparked by one of the short videos we watched in last week’s workshop. The video showed the effects of population explosion in the city of Altamira as a consequence of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. There were many scenes of the city streets covered in overflowing trash bins and crumbling infrastructure. Maybe in their minds, hydroelectric dams are now associated with litter and unpleasant surroundings. The next photo that appeared on the wall was one of electrical lines running through the neighborhood. The pair made the argument that solar energy uses less electrical lines so therefore the neighborhood will be more beautiful. While this isn’t necessarily true, it is notable that they are drawing a connection between solar energy and a cleaner, less polluted world.
Among the thought-provoking photographs presented by the second pair was one taken on the boardwalk, right as the sun was beginning to set. The picture captured so many different aspects of solar energy: the plants growing on the riverbank, the reflection of the setting sun on the river, colorful shirts drying on a clothesline strung between two streetlamps, and slowly extending shadows. Intended to illustrate one location for filming our video, the photo perfectly exemplified the varied roles the sun plays in their lives. I noticed that the most significant part of this discussion was that the young people were starting to speak with a greater sense of authority about the subject of solar energy. Their facts may not be 100% accurate, but this exhibition of confidence is enough to show that the workshops are having an impact.
I know I haven’t touched much on the larger solar panel installation we envisioned completing during my stay here. The reasoning behind this is due to the constantly fluctuating circumstances regarding property ownership. I felt like it didn’t make sense to keep publishing updates considering the situation changes on a daily basis and is often prolonged by the disappearance of landlords. The whole process of officially connecting a PV system to the grid can take up to 82 days (possibly more in a region where solar generation is so scarce). We can accelerate this process by submitting a request for authorization to CELPA, Pará’s electrical power distributor, but we need to be able to define the system’s characteristics. Meaning, we need to know what type of system we want to install and where. The challenges concerning the location of the panel have made it difficult to move forward and unfortunately it’s something we have little control over. It’s a very frustrating situation for many reasons aside from the solar panel project.
That said, all hope is not lost and the solar installation will still take place, just not before my December 16th departure date. I find it hard to believe that December has already arrived, marking two and a half months of my collaboration with Rios de Encontro. So much has been accomplished in this time, yet we still have many things to do. Originally, this collaboration was intended to span a three-month time period. Given the reality that we will be unable to complete the installation in the next two weeks, Dan, Mano and I have been discussing the possibility of my return in February 2015. This would give us more time to determine what the property situation will look like over the next year.