Baja has a tremendous solar resource yet solar panels can be overly expensive and distant for many. This keeps solar technology out of financial/logistical reach for many, leaving them without access to electricity. Many residents of the outlying fishing and ranching communities have resigned to living completely without power.
In addition, hurricane Odile ravaged the Baja peninsula on September 14th and 15th of this year. As a category 3 hurricane, it blew 140 mph winds and dropped some 14 inches of rain in places causing widespread and dangerous flooding. It was the strongest hurricane to hit Baja peninsula in the satellite era. It left thousands homeless and desperate in its wake. This will increase the gap in access to electricity for years.
An organization is trying to change this situation by empowering local communities to create or rebuild their own renewable power in Baja, Mexico with affordable DIY solar panels.
The Green Go Solar Project teaches people how to build their own solar panels, mostly from everyday household materials. The hands-on teaching process provides education in the basics of solar/photovoltaic technology for residents and visitors alike. The organization is demonstrating that solar is a viable and affordable alternative to running a generator or burning tires, with the end-goal of providing locally built electric power to people without light.
The project was founded in 2008 by Keith Bonarrigo soon after he arrived in San Juanico, Baja Sur, Mexico. Keith is a surfer and was drawn by the legendary wave in “Scorpion Bay” (as it known amongst surfers). Upon arrival he was captured by the local culture and geographic beauty. He also recognized the notable need for accessible and affordable power, and began to strategize a way to bring this technology to the area.
Green Go Solar is also trying to raise funds to provide more storm area workshop material, to help repair the pickup vehicle they use, to get more tools for the workshop students, and to provide a more sustainable local bathroom. You can help by contributing at their IndeGoGo funding site.
Solar Cell Solution
The solution lay in what could be considered a waste product of the solar industry; all cells used in these workshops are cosmetic rejects from the solar cell production process. The solar cell fabrication process produces perfectly functional but cosmetically imperfect solar cells which are not used in retail-grade panels. These cells are sometimes destroyed or broken down at the factory, consuming time, energy, and resources. When the cosmetic defect in question is slight, the cells can also be purchased in bulk for pennies on the dollar. The project acquires and imports these B/C-grade solar cells and puts them to work. The solar cells are used as a vocational resource to illustrate basic electric principles critical to the design, construction, maintenance, and expansion of any solar system of any size.
Solar panel prototypes were built using this material and methodology. They were installed for field testing, leading to the evolution of their concept and designs over time. The panels lasted, proving themselves to be functional over a period of years, and the process has led to further improvements in both methods and materials.
Workshop students test the electrical integrity of these solar cells and then connect them together into strings for a larger, pre-calculated electrical output. Students are taught construction methods to create custom housing structures to protect the contents from the harsh Baja environment. They ultimately assembled all this to comprise a fully-functional solar panel. Teaching methods put an emphasis on the re-use of regular household materials for panel construction to reduce the amount of material going into landfills, and to generally encourage the idea of recycling.
The methods, materials, and tools employed by the group are specifically tailored to meet local challenges. Everything needed for a DIY solar panel is within the economic and physical reach of any resident of this remote area. The most common panel construction method used in the workshops results in a solar panel that produces about 80-90 watts of power for roughly 650 pesos (+-$50 U.S. dollars) of solar material. This same amount of solar power in a commercially manufactured panel is currently available for roughly 6500 pesos ($350 dollars) in the nearest outlet, the B.C.S. capital of La Paz, located about 6 hours away from the project’s base. Solar workshops are conducted based on the working schedules of local people, as fisherman and ranchers can have quite varied day-to-day routines – oftentimes based on environmental factors like tides or rain. Workshops are scheduled based on these factors and communal feedback in an attempt to run during downtime in many local’s lives. This enables workshop students to keep lost potential work time to a minimum, which allows them to keep their family finances working.
Upon completion of the workshop, all solar students are provided with solar cells, wire, and a diode to build their own solar panel. The workshop usually takes 1-2 days, including hands-on instruction in solar system design and sizing as well as battery maintenance.
After the initial panel build, the workshop group normally identifies a family, business or institution in need. A modest solar system is designed for the site selected, based on their estimated energy consumption. The system is installed and the panel is put to work, creating renewable power for the local community, and a practical demonstration of DIY solar at work.
The group has built and maintains a base vocational facility known as “el Rancho Solar” which they open to the public to learn to build and run solar power. A renovated Airstream trailer serves as the workspace for the workshops themselves, as well as a tool library. The doors are open for general public interface for any kind of guidance/advice to help solar students succeed.
Since the inception of the project, the success rate has been high and local interest has grown rapidly. Interest from surrounding areas has spawned the development of a mobile workshop program where the material and methods are brought to surrounding areas and taught there.
San Juanico Is Beautiful
San Juanico is nestled between the beautiful Pacific coast and the rugged San Pedro Mountains on the Baja California peninsula. Its remote location has kept this a slow-paced fishing village, which continues to offer an escape in a tranquil setting. The town sits on a pristine bay with a rich and vibrant marine ecosystem. It has long been known by surfers as the legendary “Scorpion Bay” for its incredible point breaks. This location provides one of the best waves to learn to surf on in the world, excellent fishing, snorkeling, tide-pooling, and a vast desert expanse which makes for miles and miles of wide-open ATV/moto touring. Nearby Laguna San Ignacio offers up-close whale watching experiences unlike any other (and has served as another test-base for the solar project). The project encourages and emphasizes responsible appreciation of the surrounding environment so it can continue to serve as a constant reminder of the benefits of preserving these beautiful natural resources.
Surfboards, fishing/snorkeling gear, and motorcycles/ATVs can be made available for solar students through the Green Go Solar Project’s workshop facility, known as “El Rancho Solar” or available for daily/hourly rental at the nearby Burro En Primavera restaurant and bar.
There are several options for accommodations in San Juanico, ranging from free beach camping or trailers at the project workshop facility to affordable local hotels/casitas and local rooms/houses for rent.
Please see http://greengosolar.org for more information on the organization, accommodations, and upcoming workshop/events schedule.