Extending Colorado's Renewable Energy Expertise to Bolivia
Colorado team brings infrastructure that most Americans take for granted to a global audience
Colorado has become a leader in renewable energy. Both public and private entities have invested in wind, hydropower and solar to provide sustainable benefits in Colorado. In a state that values its pristine environment and reaps economic benefits from tourists, it makes sense that we strive to be a leader in the renewable energy movement.
Coloradans have poured $2.5 billion into solar investments and more than 200,000 homes are currently powered by solar. This has led to more than 1,000 megawatts of capacity in solar energy in the state, producing enough energy to eliminate more than 6,500 railcars of coal.
From home installations of solar panels to community solar farms and large-scale solar generators, I have worked in various segments of the solar industry over the last decade. I met our co-founders Nick Killen and Lou Fabian through the MBA program at the University of Denver. The three of us have been working in renewable energy in Colorado for the last 12 years.
Recently, we decided to bring our expertise to less developed communities.
Around the globe, there are 1.2 billion people who don't have access to electricity. People are using fossil fuels to generate electricity or, alternatively, don't have access to consistent power. Neither of these options are sustainable. Additionally, many remote communities don't have internet, limiting access to information, educational tools, health care and more.
We believe that power and access to information are two essential tools. Thus, we created Pidola.
Translated to "leapfrog" in Spanish, the organization is committed to bringing solar electricity and satellite internet to South and Central American schools. After two years of initial site visits, we installed pilot projects in Pampa Jasi and Torotoro, two remote villages in Bolivia, thanks to connections with existing nonprofits that were working on the ground to build schools, community gardens and teach citizens about clean water and basic health care. With a school and gathering area, adding electricity and internet provided numerous benefits including improved learning, cooking, refrigeration and water filtration.
It's amazing to see people communicate across the greater region with the use of internet, catapulting them – or leapfrogging – into new opportunities. Leveraging the original schoolhouse and amplifying has exponential potential. Previously, some of the Bolivian people had to walk one to two days to access power and communications, and many were leaving their villages for work and school – resulting in a diminishing economy for the already-underproducing communities.
Electricity and internet give life to the learning process.
Pidola is changing the course of education for children in rural villages who are very eager to learn. The organizations provides Bolivian children with infrastructure that most students in America take for granted.
Thanks to the donations from initial supporters, in 2017 Pidola made solar electricity and satellite internet a new reality for 84 rural Bolivian school children. Local officials, the Ministry Education, Bolivian Space agency and local nonprofits acknowledged the success and are working to identify recipients for dozens more projects.
For now, we have a short-term goal of three village installations by June 2019, consisting of building a solar electricity system (panels, batteries, charge controller, inverter) for the school that will power the satellite internet antenna and components as well as covering the monthly internet costs. Looking to the future, we would like to demonstrate the value of these projects to local officials and donors to duplicate the impact at scale.
Michelle Zimmerman expanded from a career in nonprofit management to focus on responsible solar development in 2008. Beginning in residential and off-grid projects, she became vice president of Innovative Energy, a solar installer in Summit County and helped grow the company to include design-build-service for commercial solar projects. In 2014, Zimmerman worked with Clean Energy Collective to expand community solar across Colorado and has been developed large-scale solar facilities with Cypress Creek Renewables since 2017.