Solar power gives Andean villages new lease on life

Sun Oct 25, 2009 4:53pm EDT
 
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By Kylie Stott

MISA RUMI, Argentina (Reuters Life!) - A pioneering solar energy project is using green technology to improve the lives of isolated villagers living beyond the reach of power lines on Argentina's windswept Andean plains.

Llama-herding communities have relied on firewood to cook and to heat their mud-brick homes for centuries in this remote corner of the vast South American country, causing deforestation and soil erosion.

Now residents of the village of Misa Rumi in Jujuy province are cooking their lunchtime soups and stews on solar-fired stoves and installing solar-heated showers as part of a project led by a local NGO, the EcoAndina Foundation.

"We use the solar stove every day and it works well. You can cook soup, or whatever you want. It's not bad at all, I think it gives good results," said Julian Martinez, who scrapes out a living as a gold panner, as he stirred a pot of soup balanced on the large, aluminum dish.

With the use of a built-in sundial, the solar stoves are tipped to face the strongest sun and can set light to a piece of paper within seconds. They have proved popular, saving villagers the work of gathering scarce firewood or buying pricey canisters of natural gas.

Elsewhere in Misa Rumi, the scorching Andean sun is used to heat a communal bakery and solar-powered water pumps that guarantees irrigation for the residents' vegetable patches.

Misa Rumi lies at some 3,750 meters (12,000 feet) above sea level, but a solar heating system at the village school takes the edge off plunging early morning temperatures in the winter by transmitting the sun's heat through black roof panels.

QUALITY OF LIFE   Continued...

 
<p>NGO EcoAndina Foundation engineer Christopher Muller places a kettle on a solar cooker in the village of Misa Rumi in Argentina's northern province of Jujuy October 10, 2009. REUTERS/Juan Bustamante</p>