Alternative Energy Argentina: Bringing Wind Power to Remote Areas
Max Seitz reports for the BBC that wind power is the most widespread renewable energy source in Argentina - and Patagonia in particular has extraordinary potential due to its strong and constant winds.
He travelled to southern Chubut province, about 890 miles south of Buenos Aires, where wind power is making life easier for a number of isolated communities
In the midst of a dark wilderness, wind-generated electricity is changing lives in the region, lighting homes and schools in remote areas.
"Patagonia provides ideal conditions, unique almost, for the development of wind power," explained Hector Mattio, Director of the Regional Centre for Wind Power (or Cree in Spanish).
"We get very strong sustained winds of 11 metres per second, while in Europe they usually only reach about nine," Mattio added.
Cree - funded by the Chubut government and located in the provincial capital Rawson, near Trelew - currently has many community projects on the go to install wind generators.
So far, more than 300 isolated rural villages in Chubut have received small wind turbines which provide them with light, communication and power for domestic electric appliances.
A 66-year-old Araucano Indian, Julian Ibanez, welcomed us to his stone-built house.
Julian owns horses and sheep but his prize possession is a three-blade, 12-metre high wind turbine with 600-watt power (the equivalent of 10 light bulbs). Like others in the region, he simply calls it the "windmill".
"They installed the windmill a while ago now and it's changed our lives. We didn't have electricity before, just a kerosene lamp and that was it; now we have light and we can listen to the radio."
Julian led me to a plain bedroom, where he had a fuse box attached to the wall and a 12-volt car battery, and explained how everything worked.
The wind turns the windmill blades and a cable takes the energy produced into the house. The fuse box controls the voltage and battery charge.
Marcos added that the electrical supply is constant - whether it comes directly from the generator or, when there is no wind, from what has been stored by the accumulator.
Some dwellings have installed an inverter, a gadget to transform a 12 volt output into 220 volts - ideal for domestic appliances.
Another inhabitant of the area, 30-year-old Adelino Cual, also an Araucano, had this to say: "We have electricity 24 hours a day, not just the little lamp we had before. We no longer have to buy kerosene or gas-oil. It works out cheaper for us."
The engineers had shown him how to work and maintain the generator and the fuse box: "They taught me, for example, how to change the fuses if they blow; I've changed them several times," he said.
And Marcos added that the idea is for those benefiting from the technology to be self-sufficient.
After visiting the hamlets around about, we made our way to the heart of Chacay Oeste, which comprises a dozen or so houses and a school-shelter which accommodates some 30 pupils from neighbouring settlements.
The school has been provided with six wind turbines, installed by Cree in the highest part of the town.
"They provide energy for our building, for the shelter and also the teachers' houses. During the school holidays, they are used to supply energy to the rest of the village".
Before turbines were installed, Chacay Oeste got its electricity from a petrol generator, the noise of which had become part of the landscape for the locals.
"The windmills have changed things a lot for the youngsters. Now they have access to computers, and teachers can educate them through television programmes."
"Now I feel I communicate more with other people. Not like before - we were a bit unsociable," Julian confessed after telling me that he regularly listens to the radio to find out what is going on, and that he really appreciates the Cree technicians' visits.
And at Cree they confirm that this is indeed what it is all about: The social impact the technology has had on the communities has helped to integrate them more.
Full BBC Article