Momentum for Change: Solar energy for low income urbanization

Focus area: Mitigation
Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Established: May 2010

This project, based in Buenos Aires, one of the largest cities in Latin America, is incorporating solar power as a means for both climate change mitigation and social inclusion for low income urban communities. The project, launched by the Buenos Aires City government, involves the installation of solar water heaters in homes in low income areas.

The first water heaters were installed in the "Los Piletones" neighbourhood in 2010. The area is what is known as a spontaneous settlement where a lack of urban planning and illegal electrical connections create risks for human health. The solar water heaters were installed on a community centre and in five residential homes. While definitive numbers about the amount of greenhouse gas emissions and energy savings was difficult to collect (due to the lack of energy and water meters in the neighborhood), information was obtained anecdotally through visits of the installers, controllers and interviews with beneficiaries. These preliminary results have been positive.

Mitigation / Adaptation

Social and economic benefits

Potential for scaling-up and replication

This activity is part of a Local Action Plan, which is part of the structure of the City of Buenos Aries Environmental Protection Agency Local Initiative on climate change. Through the installation of solar water heaters in homes in the Los Piletones in the southern part of the city, the activity aims to improve environmental quality and quality of life for inhabitants through sustainable technologies and knowledge transfer. The five pilot solar water heaters installed use an average of four panels collectors (community centre) and 2 solar panels (residential homes) attached to water accumulator tanks of 650 and 175 liters respectively. While exact results for greenhouse gas reductions was not available, anecdotal evidence suggests that the project is having an impact on the quality of life for the beneficiaries.

The pilot solar water heaters installed at the community center work with four 2 m2 panels collectors attached to a water accumulator tank of 650lt. In the case of residential homes, one 2 m2 solar panel, each, is attached to a water accumulator tanks of 175liters. While exact results on energy saving was not available, anecdotal evidence suggests that the project is having a positive impact on the quality of life for the beneficiaries.

In shanty towns undergoing urbanization, water heating (where existent) is produced by means of electric heaters due to the lack of natural gas connection. These electric devices are generally precariously connected entailing, in many cases, high risk. The installation of solar collectors in these sorts of neighbourhoods allows for users to have hot water all year long, while at the same time, reducing electrification risks and future energy costs.
Stakeholders and local governments have worked for several years to humanize these shanty urban spaces. One of the big stumbling blocks has been access to electricity. Thus developing a policy and the technological skills and awareness of clean, renewal energy sources is a critical need to complement development plans and strategies for these areas.

For this activity, the direct beneficiaries include 3,860 people in the Los Piletonesneighbourhood, who use the sports centre, as well as the five families who received the water heaters. Community consultation was a key factor, as the neighbors committee worked together with a Local Government Corporation on the selection of homes receiving the water heaters. A second stage in the activity will include training for local residents on the installation, use and maintenance of the water heaters.

The implementation of this activity using one of the most cost-effective renewable energies available to the country, not only increases the product market visibility, but allows it to become a strategic element in sustainable building. According to the 2010 census, the population living in poor settlements is around 163,584 inhabitants. These are the targets for the expansion of this activity.

Already, another low income neighbourhood, Villa 1-11-14 was selected for a similar pilot water heater scheme. Two community centres and five residential buildings will have solar water heaters connected. The effects of this pilot on beneficiaries will also be measured.

As for leading to transformational change, it is important to consider the awareness raising effects, bearing in mind the community center is used by children, who happen to be great communicators for best practice techniques.