Working with Fellow Granada University Students

Throughout the internship, we have been working with two architecture students from Granada University, Marisol and Christina. They assisted in our research by conducting an energy rating system on the Casa de Zafra and calculating the water evaporated from the Casa de Zafra and Comares Palace water cooling system and how it has affected the temperature in the building.

Marisol helped with calculating the water systems behavior and found great information about how the water system in both case studies did indeed work. The freshwater pools in the center of the building decreased the temperature in the area by a few degrees, thus offering an area for people to cool off. However, this technique brings in much concern for sustainability. Using fresh water for cooling and allowing it to evaporate instead of using it to drink, is not sustainable since fresh water supply is rapidly decreasing. Below is an image of the Comares Palace water cooling system which entails gravity bringing in fresh water from the Sierra Nevada to the home and into a pool in the center of the building.

As for Christina, she worked on an energy rating system, the CE3X software, on Casa de Zafra, which concluded interesting results. The energy rating revealed that the home gave off low emissions, and had low energy consumption of non-renewables. However, received a low grade for the energy required for heating and cooling. It’s important to keep in mind that this is because of the 14th Century materials the home used, therefore does not reflect the value of the homes energy savings features. Back in the 14th century they didn’t have many options for insulation and were limited to using only wood and brick for construction. However, in today’s time this home with the same features and having access to the current materials in our society would have thrived, while still consuming little energy. Below is an image of Casa de Zafra.

A Showcase for Sustainable Living

An interview with the Honorable Ian Douglas who serves the commonwealth of Dominica in leadership over the Ministry of Trade, Energy and Employment.

Dominica is considered to be the Nature Island of the Caribbean.  With that standard, the government, the business community and the people are committed to developing a nation that is sensitive to sustainability principles.  Around the island you will find solar panels on homes, street lights and other buildings; I even saw some photovoltaic panels over a Save-a-Lot grocery store and a KFC.  You will also find hydropower, wind-power and the early stages of geothermal power.  This opens up a great opportunity for USF students interested in sustainable energy to come to Dominica and experience firsthand the work conducted by engineers from Iceland and the development to come.  There are high hopes that the geothermal project will reduce electricity prices, provide jobs and encourage more business development.  I was able to interview the Minister of Trade, Energy and Employment to discuss how these three areas contribute to Dominica’s overall Green Economy.

With the demand for organic agriculture rising, how is Dominica fulfilling that demand and ensuring that these products are making it to market in good condition?

Because of the shelf life of many products, getting to the market in good condition can be a challenge. So we are working with the boat owners right now to equip them with refrigeration, cold storage and capacity onboard their boats to get the produce into the markets and on the shelves in the condition that the customer would want it. We have also invested in multi-purpose stock houses. All the stuff leaving Dominica, must go through these stock houses so that they are properly washed, sorted and packed properly. This is a multi-pronged approach. We are an agency committed to raw standards. Another thing that we are doing is certifying the farms to make sure that the farming practices of the farmers conform to this kind of conveyor belt system from the farm to the market. We are looking at all of the aspects up and down the product chain to ensure that what eventually ends up on the market is what the brand says it is.

Are there any plans for marketing to the U.S. or other nations?

Our exports are more or less targeted toward the regional, Caribbean markets. There are a lot of requirements for products entering the U.S. from Dominica, so initially, our export strategy is to grow our smaller markets like Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Martin, and Anguilla and then eventually move on to some larger markets. We have our eyes set on expanding to places like St. Thomas, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico which are U.S. territories but we will need to grow incrementally and get more transportation involved. As we open more markets and create more demand for Dominican products, then we can encourage our farmers to produce more. Creating the demand is important. If we ask Dominican farmers to produce more now, but we cannot get those products to the market, then we will consequentially create a glut which will discourage the market because the farmer cannot sell. Therefore, we have to grow slowly and do it right.

We have to be able to enter the market and sustain it because what the supermarkets are looking for is consistency, regularity and reliability. We cannot send 10,000 pounds of ripe bananas today and then the following week only send a box; that just doesn’t make sense. So, we also have to stagger our production. Farmers have typically planted around the seasons, but now they will need to plant non-traditionally to ensure that they can sustain regularity on the market.

What challenges in trade have those in the agriculture sector faced in Dominica?

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This image of workers loading bananas at the docks in Portsmouth Dominica was sent to me by a friend on WhatsApp.

Back in 1998, Dominica made over a hundred million dollars sending bananas to the United Kingdom. We, along with some other small island nations were given preferential treatment because of the 400 years of exploitation that England had engaged in throughout the Caribbean. For those in the U.S. and around the world who supported Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte bananas, they believed that Dominica and other small islands had an unfair advantage and that they should compete on the same level as all other nations of the world. Consideration was not given to fact that small islands had less arable land, and smaller population sizes that could not compete on the level of those nations with hectares of agriculture bigger than the whole size of Dominica and which could easily out produce the island nations in quantity. When Dominica lost preferential treatment on the U.K. market, the price of bananas dropped, the farmer couldn’t produce for the price that he was getting, the boxes used to contain the bananas were costing more than its contents and many had to abandon their fields. This disillusioned some farmers, but we are determined to find our way in the market.

What other commodities will Dominica export and to what other destinations?

Bananas, both green and ripe; ground provisions including potatoes, sweet-potatoes, dasheen, yams; vegetables, especially those that have a longer shelf-life like cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbages, teas, spices, fruit and others. We just spent about 5 million dollars (XCD), developing two new buildings in both Portsmouth and Roseau and equipping them with a conveyor-belt system for washing, sorting, spraying, weighing, packaging and preparing produce for export.

The government had considered investing in a transport vessel for export, but it was determined that the issue wasn’t so much a lack of vessels but rather upgrading existing vessels and organizing them with better direction and more efficient trade routes. Some boats were traveling to St. Martin and back, but in between Dominica and St. Martin are other islands like Montserrat, St. Kitts, Antigua, and Anguilla among others, which are not being serviced. Those vessels traveling to Martinique, for example, could easily add Barbados as an additional stop on their trade route. There is a bigger market out there and we need to be more proactive about helping these vessels expand their routes and providing the facilitation that they need. The regular markets for Dominica, right now, include Martinique, Guadeloupe, Antigua and St. Martin. The next step would be to market to the greater Caribbean region and then grow from there. We hope to expand into Anguilla, Tortola, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Thomas, and St. John.

There are some things that are produced here in Dominica that would certainly be of interest to other economies. Two in particular would be coconut oil and bay oil. Producers of these products are doing very well. The Ministry of Trade is requesting some funding for them so that they can improve their packaging and labeling and so they can purchase more machinery which will enable them to supply more volume to the market.

How could marketing better reflect what Dominica has to offer?

We could definitely improve our marketing on the internet; I don’t believe we do enough web based commodity marketing because it takes a lot of funding. Even with tourism marketing, we only spend about 4 million (XCD) per year marketing the country and about half of that goes to trade shows leaving very little for e-marketing. This is a lot less than other competing small islands like Grenada and St. Vincent who spend about 10 million per year in marketing. Barbados probably spends about 20 million in marketing which enables them to capture even more of the world’s attention. This is not even considering the larger island economies like Jamaica and Trinidad. We are increasing our marketing budget to about 6 million for next year and are very hopeful for the future. The same goes for commodity marketing, we are going to have to put more into it.

Recently, eight representatives from Dominica, including a member from the Dominica Export Import Agency (DEXIA), a farmer, the manager of the multi-purpose packing houses, the director of training and others went on a trade mission within the Caribbean. The team traveled to around six or seven different islands and they returned saying that there is definitely a demand for Dominican produce which has developed a reputation for being fresh and tasty. The challenge facing Dominica is the ability to enter the market with the necessary quantity and reliability necessary to maintain those trade relationships.

Do you have high hopes for Dominica’s new coffee industry?

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Coffee Tree

Absolutely. I believe that Dominica’s coffee can rival Jamaica’s Blue Mountain Coffee easily because we have the elevation. Dominica is one of the most mountainous places, per square mile, on the face of the earth. Dominica also has the volcanic soil and tropical environment that have also proven great for growing coffee.

Ultimately, what we would like to do is brand Dominica as a totally organic, sustainable, renewable energy island. That is why we are going after the geothermal so much, because it presents so much potential for us to be able to reach that goal. Already in tourism, we are marketing the island for the ecotourism; if we can do that in other aspects, then the entire island itself can, in fact, become a showcase for sustainable living.

I’ve heard that in the long run, geothermal energy is the most affordable, most renewable source of energy but that the initial investment can be very expensive. How has Dominica financed their geothermal project and what is the present state of development?

Yes, it is true, the project has cost us an arm and a leg up front but the outcome can be very beneficial for Dominica.  We have drilled about five holes so far, tested the power, purchased turbines and spent about 100 million, 40% of which has been made up of local funding. We also received some assistance from the E.U. Engineers from Iceland assisted us with the drilling and testing and now we are ready to move on to the turbine stage which again will cost us around 70 to 80 million. It is believed that up to 120 megawatts of power can be generated from the wells. Dominica only needs between 10 and 15 megawatts, which allows for the potential to export energy to neighboring islands. Our geothermal wells are not just dry heat or wet steam either, they spring up hot water. We pump the hot water up, separate the steam from the water, and then re-inject the water back into the well.

Initially we were working with the French because we knew that viability of the whole project was in the export of the geothermal power to Martinique and Guadeloupe. We believed that a partnership with a French Consortium of companies could assist with this project, but they are holding out for now. Nevertheless, we will pursue our small plant on our own because our government has a particular agenda and a commitment to the people for the reduction of our light bills and we need to be able to deliver that. We are putting together a geothermal development company to move the project forward. The government will have a majority of the shares but we are going to open up the opportunity for other companies and individual investors to buy shares and have some equity in the company.

Would you be open to university students coming out to learn and volunteer with the geothermal project?

We would love that.

How does the geothermal project open up opportunity for job creation?

If we drop the price of electricity, more companies will be able to come here for manufacturing. Businesses will be able to allocate funds for expansion and new hires. Hotels will be able to offer more affordable room rates. The price of electricity right now is just prohibiting. For many of our hotels, the price of electricity makes the room rate uncompetitive and for that reason, some our hotels right now are self generating with off grid energy systems. All of this puts the need for the development of a renewable energy source as a top priority. If too many people are self generating, it could threaten the viability of the grid system and compromise the ability to make electricity available to everyone at a fair price. Geothermal energy will allow us to drop the price of electricity by more than 50% per kilowatt hour. Right now the price is around 55 to 60 U.S. cents per kWh and we need to drop that to around 15 and 20 cents per kWh to be competitive. One of the other spinoffs of geothermal is hydrogen gas which can potentially be used to power our vehicles. Even electric cars could plug up and be charged through our geothermal power generation.

What are some recommendations going forward for anyone interested in getting involved?

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New Coffee Production Facility in Portsmouth

For the geothermal it could be investment into the geothermal company. For trade it could be marketing and getting Dominican products out on the shelves of other countries. Dominica can readily produce ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric and other spices and herbal remedies that are gaining popularity. Dominica also has a brand new coffee production facility which needs some investors and farmers to realize that potential. Dominica could also export various teas which are not limited to the black and green teas but also include the basillic, sorrel and other gourmet teas. Pureed fruits like mango, guava, pawpaw, and sweetsop could also be made ready for export.

How can village communities benefit from regional/international trade?

There are agents here called hucksters who go into the villages to buy produce for export from local farmers who on their own cannot reach the regional/international markets. The hucksters handle all of the shipping details and often times serve as agents for their local governments for importing particular agricultural products. Though the local farmer does not deal directly in the trade, they are benefiting from the additional sale of products beyond their local area.

Dominica is such a wonderful place that the world needs to see. What else would you say is advantageous about your green economy?

Being the Nature Island of the world, we are at a comparative advantage and we have the resources like fresh water, geothermal energy, and quality produce coming out of our soil to prove it. Using sustainability principles to our advantage, we can bring about economic stability in Dominica.

Mr. Douglas and I had a great conversation and some good laughs too.  Looking to the future, I believe that at the Patel College of Global Sustainability, we have a world of opportunity in partnering with Dominica and their sustainability initiatives. – Jerry John Comellas

 

First Week in Kauai

13418852_1115914888431127_7906260753746635636_nAfter eight hours fly from the Tampa to Kauai, I finally got Kauai to start my trip of internship. In the first day of working for the Greenworks, We went to the farmer to know every body to get familiar with the environment. However, My physical clock was disturbed by the jet lag so that I felt very exhausted and didn’t pay too much attention when the external supervisor led us in the farm for the orientation. But, I feel very excited due to the fact the farm that I work for grow every organic plant. They don’t use any pesticide and chemical product to nurture the plant. This situation motivates my confidence in helping the local farm to become more sustainability. Because they care about the sustainability, renewable energy that I research for will help them to be greener.

…and a River for Every Day of the Year

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Interview with Bernard Ettinoffe – General Manager of DOWASCO

Managing Dominica’s Most Precious Resource – WATER

Dowasco-logo

WATER SECURITY

Though it is said that in Dominica “there is a river for everyday of the year” the Dominica Water and Sewerage Company (DOWASCO), does not want to take their abundance of water for granted. Mr. Bernard Ettinoffe, General Manager of DOWASCO knows all to well how finite and vulnerable the water resource is and how it can be negatively impacted by climate change, human activities and new development, quite easily.  Therefore, DOWASCO is determined to manage this precious resource appropriately and ensure the sustainability of water resources for all Dominicans now and into the future.

What is the current statistic on water provision throughout the country?

Presently over 97% of the islanders have potable water.  We would have been at 100% had it not been for Tropical Storm Erika in August of 2015.  At the time a new water system was set to be commissioned in the village of Belles by October of that year, but the storm wreaked havoc on our work there. 1,443,000 Eastern Caribbean Dollars (XCD) have been requested to complete that project.

CLEAN and SAFE DRINKING WATER

 

IMG_0059What efforts are in place to ensure that clean drinking water is supplied?

The way that DOWASCO maintains clean water systems is to obtain intakes from way up stream where the soil is not loose, where the rocks are more solid and where the water is not prone to silting.  Our best water sources are higher up and some  within the UNESCO World Heritage Site where people do not live and where agriculture and the felling of trees is not permitted.  Because there is no construction of any kind in that area, the water is very, very clean.  The water is pulled from those sites, chlorinated and delivered to the communities.  Depending on turbidity levels, others checks and treatments may include sedimentation, filtration, coagulation, and flocculation.  We always ensure that the water is very clean.  When cruise ships come into port, Dominica supplies the vessel with this same water which is double checked on board in the ship’s water testing labs.

The raw water quality is already very good, so most of the time chlorination is the only necessary treatment.  This is because we choose areas that are higher up in the mountains and have less interaction with people.  If we require a water intake in an area that has agriculture, the farmers in that area are paid a subsidy and are no longer allowed to utilize that land.  There is zero tolerance for the felling of trees and the planting of crops near a water intake area to ensure that no fertilizer or other runoff enters the water system.  In cases where turbidity can be high, for example with the Springfield/Antrim system that serves Roseau, (after the road was constructed, a lot of debris was dumped on the hillside), we have introduced coagulation and flocculation with that particular system.

HYDROPOWER

I have noticed the Hydroelectric Complex near Trafalgar falls. How does water in Dominica help in the generation of electricity?

The Dominica Electricity Services Company (DOMLEC) uses some hydropower which is generated from water coming down Trafalgar Falls from Fresh Water Lake.  DOWASCO has a bulk waterline that extends from the mountain power plant all the way down to the seashore and which has the potential to load ships with six million gallons of water per day.  Our intention is to use that water to load the ships, but once no ship is loading, to use that water to generate hydropower and upload it onto DOMLEC’s grid. DOWASCO has a Power Purchase Agreement with DOMLEC for this process.  There is a trade-off from the electricity that DOWASCO utilizes and the balance which is uploaded to the grid.  More specifically, there is a designated price that DOMLEC would pay for the generated electricity, which is included in the Power Purchase Agreement.  If the water company uses more electricity than what is uploaded, then we pay the difference; if we use less, then the electric company will refund the difference based on the prearranged price.  Presently, less than 20% of the community is using hydropower.  The goal has always been to utilize more, but recently investment and focus has moved toward the development of geothermal energy.

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OPPORTUNITIES FOR UNIVERSITY RESEARCH  

If students from the University of South Florida had the opportunity to participate in an internship here, what kinds of water projects could they be involved with?

If university students were interested in water projects in Dominica, they could study the linkages between forestry, the water resources and the impact of climate change.  Some water resource studies have already been conducted by the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES) of the University of the West Indies.  A team of students could follow up that work.  Presently Dominica is looking at a water audit to determine the quantity and quality of both surface water and underground water, along with the identification of the water recharge rate and an understanding of the water balance as a whole.  The country could also benefit from a study of the independent efforts at rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation and water reuse and turning that study into a campaign that encourages the sustainable use of water island-wide.

MITIGATING WATER SCARCITY IN THE CARIBBEAN

With all of this water on the Nature Island, is there any opportunity for entrepreneurship?

Not all islands in the Caribbean are as blessed with the abundance of water like Dominica.  Water-scarcity is a problem for several countries in the region and there is an opportunity to leverage the existing capabilities of Dominica to meet that need.  Dominica is known as the Nature Island; building along that theme with the promotion of quality Nature Island water from the tropical forests of Dominica, we could be a supplier to water-stressed areas in the region like Antigua, Barbuda, and Barbados, among others.  Dominica has the highest per capita of water in the region.

WATER-ENERGY-FOOD NEXUS

At the Patel College of Global Sustainability we have learned about the Water-Energy-Food Nexus and how a change to one sector can significantly impact another.  How is this systems thinking approach considered in Dominica?

 

In Dominica, energy is used to provide water and water is used to generate energy.  As much as possible, gravity is used to deliver clean water to many of the residences and business on the island.  In some areas, however, we are obliged to use pumping stations to deliver water to communities that are above the waterline. Although the cost of that water is high, DOWASCO does not pass those costs on to the consumers in that area.  Instead, we make up some of the cost of energy used to deliver that water through earnings from the hydropower production and the power purchase agreement with the electric company.  More and more, demand for water is also required for the irrigation of agriculture.  In the minds of most people, gone are the days when gardens could rely solely on rainwater.  Certainly rainwater harvesting could provide some of this water requirement and productivity could increase significantly if people would simply learn how to better manage their water usage.  But for now, the food production levels are still heavily dependent on the water system.  This all contributes to the Water, Energy, Food Nexus in Dominica.

Even though it is believed that Dominica has 365 rivers, Mr. Ettinoffe is hopeful that best practices in water management will be utilized all over the country which will conserve this finite resource and contribute even more to their status as the Nature Island of the Caribbean.

Jerry John Comellas; University of South Florida; Patel College of Global Sustainability

The Other Dominicans

Tomorrow I begin my internship on the Nature Island of the Caribbean.  When I tell people that I will be working on the island of Dominica (Dom-min-EEKA), their responses are clear that they have never heard of the island nation. “Do you have to learn Spanish to go there? That’s the country that shares an island with Haiti, right? How come you pronounce it Dom-min-EEKA… isn’t it supposed to be Duh-min-ni-kah? Ohh, I have a friend that is from the Dominican Republic!”

After a quick geography lesson, I explain to them that the Commonwealth of Dominica is a Windward Isle located in the Lesser Antilles and they are closer to the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe than they are to any Spanish speaking islands. The people of Dominica speak English and a version of French Creole called Patois. Dominica does not share an island with Haiti, Great Britain, France and not even the United States for that matter.

Truly, these “other Dominicans” do not like it so much that people have no idea that they exist. Cristopher Columbus sailed there too; and he encountered a tribe of Island Caribs, the Kalinagos, when he landed there. Slaves were brought to that island too and provided the work force for both French and British occupation. Dominica is the true quintessential volcanic, tropical paradise. The island has the second largest boiling lake in the world, the longest hiking trail in the Caribbean (the Waitikubuli) and beautiful coral reefs that are on the path of whale migration. Tropical fruit trees and coconuts are there in abundance. Green forests define the landscape along with magnificent waterfalls and a “river for every day of the year.” The only living species of Sisserou Parrots live in Dominica. The country has its own government, departments of government, education system, healthcare, seaport, airport, tourism and even an American Medical School.

The point that people are unfamiliar with the island nation reveals the reality that Dominica has not received the development attention and investment that many of the other Caribbean Islands have received. Some might say this is both a blessing and a curse; others might say that it is both a problem and an opportunity. However one defines it, due to the lack of attention their economy is fragile and employment outside of subsistence farming or fishing is limited. Some innovative community leaders have done well and have created jobs for others. Ross Medical School also provides some jobs. Carnival Cruise Lines now comes into port there. Expatriates from Europe and the United States have also sought opportunity in Dominica. Eco-resorts, health tourism, and organic island living are becoming popular buzz words associated with the island.

In summary, because the natural beauty of the island has been preserved and because sustainability and ecotourism are now more frequently associated with travel destinations, and because the island has so much biodiversity, forests, mountains, fresh water and geothermal activity – the opportunity is there to help create a sustainable island that serves as a model to the world of successful green and blue economies that generate employment for its people. With some creativity, we can turn current problems into opportunities for university student research, social-entrepreneurship, poverty reduction, ecotourism, pesca-tourism, agri-tourism, renewable energy generation, all of which contribute to the goals in the country’s “Organic Island Initiative.”  Follow me on my journey as I unveil some of the sustainability practices already on the island and identify innovative ways for moving forward in their Green and Blue Economies.

Sustainability and the Nature Isle – by Jerry John Comellas

Bats in the Baño

So there I was at this house on the edge of the jungle off of the river. It was a 40 minute extremely eventful (10 people in a tiny boat) panga ride from Bluefields. The property was really nice, like an off the grid living dream come true. Anyways, we chopped down some coconuts and drank the water inside. It was delicious but moments later I realized I had to utilize the, um, facilities. The outdoor baño was actually quite nice. It was clean but had two large elevated holes, underneath which you could not see. I had to choose one and went right. During this time I happened to look over into the hole opposite the one I chose and something was emerging… BATS! That is right, bats were emerging from the baño. I remained still as three flew out and around my head before flying upward toward an opening in the ceiling. Luckily I had gotten my rabies vaccines before departing Florida and, to be honest, they were actually cute, the bats. This was just one of the many adventures I had the pleasure of going on during my first week with blueEnergy.

This is how it is done - collecting coconuts
This is how it is done – collecting coconuts
This is THE Baño
  This is THE Baño
COPRAJ view from behind
COPRAJ view from behind

The home we were visiting is actually Centro Ocupacional de Prevención y Reinserción para Adolescentes y Jovenes (COPRAJ). A local couple founded COPRAJ as a multi-faceted solution to at risk youths from Bluefields. In addition to building skills, crafts, music, and family, the youths are taught the valuable skill of permaculture farming. This type of farming is holistic by design, considering the natural interactions of plants and animals and working with them to yield bountiful harvest whilst maintaining the integrity of the land and preventing the monocultures that are too often found with traditional farming and agriculture. Waste is actually not waste at all – it is a resource. We learned this firsthand at another site visit to FUNCOS.

FUNCOS is a larger scale permaculture farm situated just at the edge of Bluefields. We did not have to take a panga to get there but did arrive via the back of a truck with rails (such a fun ride). We were greeted upon arrival and taken around the farm to see the way in which the plants were situated so as one would provide shade to another that required it, for example. The main event at FUNCOS was the composting demonstration. The farm composts all leftover plants and food and, as an added bonus, collects manure from local residents and smaller farms that produce it (no waste indeed). Once the compost becomes ready, the farmers at FUNCOS fill small bags with it and plant baby trees and plants. These plants are either sold to generate funds or are donated to other farms. We set off to work on filling bags with compost and planting small citrus trees following – it was definitely dirty work but we were all proud to lend a hand.

Filling bags with compost to plant saplings.
Filling bags with compost to plant saplings.

Speaking of permaculture farming, blueEnergy has their very own permaculture garden that I was given the option of learning about and actively participating in during my downtime. I am so excited to learn the techniques and should be starting relatively soon.

Permaculture demonstration garden at blueEnergy
Permaculture demonstration garden at blueEnergy

The aforementioned site visits were, predominately, focused on permaculture and organizations that blueEnergy works with but we did take a few trips round the city of Bluefields to see some of other aspects of blueEnergy’s involvement in the city. The first stop was a mechanized well that was integrated into a local school. The well provides the children with safe, potable water and is an extreme asset to the students and staff’s health and hygiene. A nice young gentleman gave us a demonstration as he cranked up the well and got himself a clean drink of water. The mechanized well is important as so many around the city are “hand dug,” which leaves them open (literally) to all sorts of contamination. If the wells are not dug deep enough they can become contaminated with human waste from nearby latrines. If the wells are not protected, hosts of contaminants (to include dead animals) can infiltrate the water along with runoff and pathogens. We were able to see a hand dug well, a completed mechanized well, and a mechanized well in progress wherein we were given the rundown on how the machinery works and necessary depths to which one must drill. Preventing contamination regardless the well type is key in sanitation and hygiene. Dry latrines, such as those developed by blueEnergy, are a way of doing so. The human excreta is confined from contaminating local water sources. We were able to visit the home of a blueEnergy dry latrine recipient and it was quite impressive – clean, lacking odor, and efficient. The family said that they have two containers and can go 18 months before having to replace just one.

You can see the potential for contamination with this well
  You can see the potential for contamination with this well
Latrines over water
Latrines over water

This is just the beginning of the blueEnergy adventures but it is nice knowing that no matter where we go or how tired we are, the amazing ladies in the blueEnergy kitchen always have a delicious creation awaiting us.

They never cease to amaze us
They never cease to amaze us

Week 1: No Roads Lead to Bluefields

I could not believe the day had come so fast – May 24th and it was time to depart for Nicaragua. I flew out of Tampa and after a short layover in Houston was in Managua, Nicaragua by evening. Jean Baptiste, the coordinator of the blueEnergy office in Managua, met me and two others at the airport and took us to the blueEnergy Managua house for the night. Upon arrival we were introduced to the other participants in blueEnergy’s Global Leadership Program (GLP). There were nine of us in total. We stayed the night at the Managua house and woke up at 3:30 am in order to catch a bus which was the beginning of a very wild adventure. Alex, a blueEnergy senior fellow met us in Managua and escorted us to Bluefields. The morning began with a six hour bus ride across the country. It was really interesting to see how the landscaped changed as we traversed it. The city slowly turned in to a more rural and green space that eventually morphed into a hilly, yet somewhat dry setting. At the end of the trip we had arrived at the water. You see, the only way into Bluefields is by water as there, technically, are no roads to get you there. So here we all are boarding a panga (boat) to get us to Bluefields. It was a two hour trip and I swear we had to be going at least 60mph in that panga. It was super windy and water was coming in everywhere. The little boat hopped the waves and we even managed to get through a small rain shower which was accomplished by covering up with a large tarp that would just whip at us as the winds picked up with the speed of the boat. There was jungle on both sides of us and every so often stilt houses would be seen in various colors and styles. Two hours later we had arrived at Bluefields. The first impression I got of Bluefields was of the various colors used throughout the buildings and the diversity in design and construction. We boarded a bus set for the blueEnergy compound and got a further sneak peek of the city. The compound was much bigger and greener than I had expected.   My room was a good size and came equipped with all the necessities: mosquito net, fan, and filtered water. After a quick tour of the facilities I was definitely ready for an early night – which is not difficult as the sun sets around 5:30pm here.

Some colorful boats in Bluefields
Some colorful boats in Bluefields
Bluefields boats
Bluefields boats

A Brief History of Bluefields

The city of Bluefields is the capital of the Southern Autonomous Region of Nicaragua. In 1642, Dutch Pirate Blauveldt founded the city (among a few others in the Caribbean). The current population is estimated to be around 60,000 comprised of six unique ethnic groups. The city, like the country of Nicaragua, has had its share of difficulties through the years. In recent history was the Sandinista revolution and Iran Contra Affair from 1979-1985 followed by hurricane Joan which absolutely decimated the city and most of the country in 1988. Recovery from these events has been difficult for the city of Bluefields.

Monument in Bluefields celebrating the six unique ethnic groups.
Monument in Bluefields celebrating the six unique ethnic groups.

blueEnergy

blueEnergy is an NGO that has maintained a permanent presence in Nicaragua, specifically Bluefields, and works directly with local and national government, other NGOs, major international financial institutions, and a plethora of other agencies. This work is conducted to create a holistic, long-term solution for communities so that they may receive water and sanitation, renewable energy, education on climate change, as well as other necessary amendments that the government or people cannot provide on their own. The blueEnergy model is slightly different than some others you may have seen as their philosophy considers the environment, health, income, and capacity building, allowing recipients to learn about and maintain their own systems at a small price. The power is put back into the hands of the impacted individuals and, as a result, they experience greater health, expanded knowledge, and economic opportunities where none had existed prior. I have had the pleasure of interacting firsthand with the director of blueEnergy, Mathias Craig, throughout the first week of my time here.

Orientation Week

blueEnergy supports a holistic framework from their major operations all the way to their summer fellows (that is me and the group I came in with). The GLP is a portion of the capacity building segment of the underlying philosophy of the organization. We had a great time during the orientation conducting site visits (next posting), doing team building activities (hilarious and fun), and learning a great deal of valuable information and techniques.  The education portion of orientation included topics that would not only help us during our time in Nicaragua but in life as well. The courses we attended were taught, in person, by Mathias Craig. He is an incredibly busy man and the fact that he took the time to personally instruct each of us for an entire week reaffirmed blueEnergy’s authenticity and passion for achieving goals and bettering Nicaragua. The courses included: the history of blueEnergy, the structure and purpose of the GLP (the program I am participating in), global issues, Nicaragua and the coast, management and leadership, personal effectiveness, and even mindfulness – further solidifying my admiration of this NGO.  To continue our education and build our skillsets we are attending Spanish lessons every morning before the workday starts and have the option to participate in exercises, team sports, and many other activities in the evening.  This is just a very brief overview of the organization and does not even begin to touch on the depth of it – I feel so very fortunate to begin my adventure with them.

Switzerland – Weeks 8-10

Bonjour!

It has been a long time since I have written a blog entry. I have been very busy with my tasks; I am averaging 9-10hr. work days. It’s weird, though. I do not feel mad or upset about staying so late. Knowing that my time is limited, I want to maximize my presence and output while I am here. On that, note – I did extend my internship by one month! They wanted me to stay the full 6 months but… Geneva is incredibly expensive (I am paying over $1000 a month for a bedroom..yikes).

Anyhow, I have to admit that I feel like my posts are always filled with these awesome adventures throughout Europe. Despite my work being very important and exciting, talking about it isn’t very….sexy? With that said, I do have some great pictures from my trip to Chamonix, France where I went up to 12,605ft and -30F air to get near Mont Blanc.. But you’ll have to eat your vegetables, so to speak, and sit through my discussion on my interesting policy work 🙂

I can’t really express my work in words & pictures on this blog, I can hear everyone ..ZZZZZ’ing all the way here in Switzerland. However, to show you how I get my hands dirty, here’s a picture of my typical day in the office….

Typical Office Day

Exciting, right? This sums up my typical work day quite well…. It begins with highlighting through the latest policy research, looking for applicable policies within the ECE member States, then looking at energy data for said country, adding the numbers in excel, run some calculations, and trying to find any patterns and correlations. As sarcastic as I may sound, the findings are quite interesting.

At this point, I am beginning to do research on member States that have less than 100% modern energy access to it’s rural communities. I want to know:

a) where are these communities?

b) What are the factors that lead to these situations?

c) Are policies in place that allow for the development of micro or off-grid renewable energy systems?

It is one thing to review policies and exiting economic and energy data sets to try and come up with theories, but physically locating these regions is something that is above my pay grade, frankly. So far, I have learned to calculate Energy Intensities and Economic Energy Efficiencies (inverse of energy intensity) which is, essentially, how cheaply and efficiently energy is  produced and consumed by basing the Total Primary Energy Consumed over the countries GDP.. For example, a country with a high energy intensity means that it takes a lot of energy to produce a unit of GDP, meaning, the costs to produce the energy and/or consume it are high and vis versa. Another way to look at it is to see how effective the nation is at delivering energy and converting it to economic gain. My point in explaining that is because, not so surprisingly, is that the countries with areas with limited access have high energy intensity values. Furthermore, the countries in question are predominately found in the Caucuses region (former USSR), and have the same infrastructure from when they were the USSR… meaning efficiencies are poor, and the distribution network is limited.

Anyhow, that research is ongoing… hopefully soon I can make some better discoveries/understandings of how the energy situation can be remedied. But for now, enjoy the pictures from Chamonix!

Au Revoir!

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Mont Blanc
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Fellow UNECE Interns
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No, it’s not the Planet Hoth, it’s actually looking into Italy.

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Switzerland – Weeks 6 & 7

Hard Works Deserves a Break… and Long Hours in the Office

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Big Ben & Parliament

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Abbey Road Studios
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Big Ben

Bonjour!

The last two weeks were a fairly mixed bag of events. From burying myself in writing and research at the UN from 9am-8pm, to skipping across the English Channel to visit London. I know the last few entries may have eluded to my time here in Switzerland as a vacation, and in many ways it has been, but the work I am doing has been tough. It is hard to put into words on this blog of the work I am doing…. It’s a desk job and usually staring at excel spreadsheets or reading the latest reports on new policies. But more importantly, I am learning a lot. The experience I am gaining and confidence that I am developing is coming onto me quickly. It is moments like when I am sitting in a bar and having an educated discussion with other interns do I appreciate what I am learned; bear in mind I am discussing this with kids who either studied or are currently studying at schools like Yale, Stanford, Columbia, etc. That is a pretty great feeling. Although I love all of this, I really needed a break. AndIMG_2729 what better than to visit a country where English isn’t just common, but where it’s the official language.. England!

When an opportunity to visit London came, I took it. Besides the obvious historical site seeing and fun pub endeavors, I did do some minor ‘research’, if you will, be accident. The hostel I stayed at in London was situated attached to/on top of a local pub. Not bad, right? After doing the typical site seeing, I got to end my day with a pint or two (or three) and listen into the local affairs in assorted accidents that we only hear on BBC. One night I was having a pint and a like aged German couple, also on ‘holiday’, struck up a conversation with me. We were all in college, foreigners, with many curiosities to explore. They fielded me the typical American stereotype questions: “Is it true that you put cheese on everything, “yeah, why limit life?”, Are American food portions really as big as people say? “What can I say, we like a good value”,…are you catching my drift? We are fat, America, everyone is aware about it, and maybe a little concerned. Seriously, nearly 90% of the questions I receive from others is related to our food habits… *sigh*.

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Bike Sharing Station – These were all throughout London

However, when it came time for me to ask questions, I only had one thing on my mind: Energiewende. Well, two if I’m honest… I wanted to talk to them about Oktoberfest..

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Westminster Abbey

Anyhow, when I began researching my potential research topics, the German Energiewende or “energy transition” constantly came up during my searches. The Energiewende is a suite of German policies with the intent to transition away from fossil fuels and nuclear sources and towards renewable energy.

This has resulted into rapid deployment of technologies like solar PV and wind power in both large and small scale. The German model is widely considered the poster child for renewable energy policy. So, since the international community loved the idea, I wanted to know what Germans, and more importantly, Germans of my generations thought of the policy. Their response? They both said, simultaneously, that the transition wasn’t happening fast enough. Incredible. The imperative to invest in cleaner energy sources is instilled in them, and neither of them studied in field where climate change would be on any syllabus. It was so enlightening to hear how the youth in Germany really take clean energy seriously and not just as some sort of packaged “eco-fad” that, frankly, exists in America. It was refreshing.

After the glorious time in London, I had to come back to one hell of week. My supervisor was out of town all week on various missions and left me to review a report that we had been working on since day 1. To cut to the chase, this was the “menu of policy and technology options” report that we were able to finish a draft last week. We submitted to my supervisor’s boss, and received the comments on Monday morning. I am in the office to work on it, but my supervisor wasn’t, nor would he all week. Convenient. Nonetheless, I agreed with most of the comments and understood the direction in which she wanted the facts and information to be presented. I ended up sitting down with her to try and fully understand where she saw this going… basically, we were going to have to re-write or re-phrase most of the paper. Oh, joy. The week was spent entirely on this paper, and this coming week will be as well. Hopefully now that my supervisor will be back, we can make some serious strides.

That’s it for now, sorry for the lack of substance, but the policy work is very monotonous, important, but very boring.

Au revoir!