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Practical Action, Peru / Micro-hydro electrifies remote Andean villages

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The Eastern slopes of the Andes in North Peru are among the least developed parts of the country, and the difficult terrain and scattered population mean that few people have grid electricity. However, there is a large potential resource of hydroelectricity in the many rivers and streams.

Practical Action, Peru has installed 47 micro-hydro schemes, with average electrical power 33 kW, to provide metered electricity to about 5,000 families. Electricity from the micro-hydro provides good quality lighting, refrigeration and entertainment in homes, and improves education and health care provision through the use of electrical equipment. Surveys suggest that about 25% of households have started or expanded businesses as a result of having electricity, and many people who left the villages because of better employment opportunities in the cities have come back and started local businesses.

47 micro-hydro schemes have been installed

5,000 families have been provided with metered electricity

60% of people said that their incomes have increased as a result of electricity coming to their village

"When we didn’t have electricity, everywhere was silent and monotonous. Then, when light came to our village, the children were able to do recreational activities. It changed our way of life. Now there’s much more happiness."

A villager from the eastern slope of the Andes


The Eastern slopes of the Andes in North Peru have stunning mountain scenery with many streams, fed by the high rainfall from the prevailing wind that blows across the Amazon. The high rainfall supports a range of agricultural activities including growing coffee, rice, maize, potatoes and fruit, and raising cattle. Agriculture and associated service industries are the main economic activity.

However, access to the region is difficult with villages and trading towns connected by un-metalled roads, and the region is one of the most underdeveloped in Peru. In recent times the villagers also suffered greatly at the hands of the Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path guerrillas.

25% of the population of Peru do not have access to grid electricity, and most are in rural areas like the jungle Andes, where 68%, or about 5 million, people are not reached by the grid. Many people leave the un-electrified villages for the wider opportunities in the cities. The use of microhydro technology can bring electricity to remote rural villages and promote very effective development.

Micro-hydro powers an internet cafe in the village of Yanacancha

Technology and use

Hydro power uses the energy of fast-moving or high-pressure water to rotate the blades of a turbine at high speed. The turbine turns an electrical generator, which produces AC electric power. Hydro turbines come in a wide range of sizes: those used by Practical Action range from about 1 kW to 200 kW electrical output, and are classed as micro-hydro. The economic potential for microhydro in this region is very substantial: this has been estimated by the World Energy Council to be 260 TWh/yr of which 5% is currently used.

Micro-hydro schemes require civil engineering work to control the flow of water. In the Practical Action schemes a canal is dug to take a proportion of the river flow to a convenient point where the water intake can be constructed. At this point a forebay (small storage dam) is built which diverts the water into a penstock (high-pressure pipe) through which the water flows down a steep gradient. Water leaving the penstock rotates the blades of the hydro turbine, which is connected by a shaft to an induction generator. The electric output from the generator is stepped up to a voltage of 10kV by a transformer, so that the main connection to a small town or village is made with low electrical losses. This power is then stepped down to 220V for delivery to households and businesses.

Maintenance workers stand outside a micro-hydro plant in Conchan, Peru

The choice of turbine depends on the flow rate and head of water, and Practical Action supplies Pelton turbines (available in 0.5 to 1,000 kW range), axial turbines with fixed blades (5 to 250 kW) and crossflow turbines (1 to 100 kW) The generators are mainly induction machines, which are up to 60% cheaper than alternators at below 12 kW rating. A simple electronic load controller is used with each induction generator to keep it running smoothly at different electrical loads.

Most of the turbines are manufactured by small companies in Peru to Practical Action designs, with each company making three or four turbines per year. Practical Action sees local manufacture as a key step towards widespread use of renewable energy. Many of the load controllers are imported from the UK or Canada. 47 micro-hydro systems have been or are currently being installed, with a combined capacity of 1568 kW.

The quality of life has improved both in the home and in the community as regular electricity means better education and health care.


Social Benefits

It is estimated that 5,044 families (around 30,000 people) benefit from electricity from the 47 Practical Action micro-hydro schemes in Peru, which generate in total about 40 GWh/year with an availability of about 80%, after allowing for maintenance and repair time. The electricity supply stimulates demand, which has been growing at about 2.5% per year.

Remote villagers of Peru see electricity as essential for the development of their communities. Previously, people moved away to start businesses in places where the infrastructure was better, but the electricity from micro-hydro schemes has brought them back. Some villages have doubled in size: for example connections to the micro-hydro scheme in Tamborapa have increased from 200 to 400 homes, and 90% of this increase was due to people returning to the village and bringing their businesses with them.

Conchan’s micro-hydro plant

Economic and employment benefits

The businesses which have started as a result of the micro-hydro electricity include restaurants and bars, bakeries, furniture makers, welders and internet cafes. A new milk cooler in Cochin collects milk from local farmers and sends it to a processing plant in Cajamarca. This generates additional income for farmers. An ice-cream factory now operates in Cochin during the hot season.

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An external survey carried out for Practical Action in 2005 found that in nine villages with hydroelectricity, 216 businesses had either been started or had grown. On average, 26% of the families benefiting from hydro-power had started or expanded a business. Extrapolating this across all areas with access to micro-hydro systems, suggests that 1,000 businesses have started or grown. 60% of people said that their incomes have increased as a result of electricity coming to their village, and for 23% of people the increase in income was more than 50%. Even people who do not have a personal financial benefit think that the micro-hydro scheme has brought development to their community.

Farms in Central Cajamarca

Education and health benefits

The availability of electricity has many educational benefits. Schools can use computers, photocopiers, audio-visual facilities and amplifiers to enhance their bands. Children are now able to study at home in the evenings with electric light. Teachers are more likely to live in the communities where they work if electricity is available, and contribute more to community life: some also set up enterprises such as internet cafes in their spare time.

The electricity from micro-hydro systems provides many health benefits. Health centres can operate vaccine refrigerators, maintain records on computer, and use radio links for communication, as well as offering a generally improved service through use of electric lights. Dental services have started. A health laboratory can now use equipment such as iceboxes, fridges, centrifuges, humidifiers, sterilisers and electric boilers.

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Most of the system components are manufactured by small, local companies. On average, three to four systems are produced each year, creating around 250 person-days of work.

Electric lighting replaces kerosene lamps in homes, which improves indoor air quality and reduces the risk of fires from spilt fuel or lamps. Women and children are most affected by the fumes, which cause breathing problems and eye irritation. Families save between £20 and £60 per year on kerosene and batteries, an average of 70% of their energy costs. Electricity makes it possible to use kitchen appliances such as fridges and food processors, and brings the possibility of radio, TV and DVD players for home entertainment.

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