Sousa, a Solar Power Capital in an Increasingly Arid Brazil

Catholic priest Paulo Diniz started the Solar Parish project in Sousa, with the support of the solar energy movement in the state of Paraiba, in northeastern Brazil. This saves the costs of conventional electricity and provides more resources for social projects, as well as being an example of the use of clean energy, as promoted by Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si ‘On care for our common home’. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Catholic priest Paulo Diniz started the Solar Parish project in Sousa, with the support of the solar energy movement in the state of Paraiba, in northeastern Brazil. This saves the costs of conventional electricity and provides more resources for social projects, as well as being an example of the use of clean energy, as promoted by Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si ‘On care for our common home’. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
SOUSA, Brazil, Aug 9 2018 (IPS)

Sousa, a municipality of 70,000 people in the west of Paraíba, the state in Brazil most threatened by desertification, has become the country’s capital of solar energy, with a Catholic church, various businesses, households and even a cemetery generating solar power.

“We were paying about 4,000 reais (1,070 dollars) a month for electricity and that cost fell to about 300 reais (80 dollars),” Catholic priest Paulo Diniz Ferreira, in charge of the Sant’Ana Parish of Sousa, now nicknamed “Solar Parish,” told IPS. The parish’s solar energy generating system was formally inaugurated on Jul. 6, but had been in operation since April.

The 142 photovoltaic panels installed on the roof of the Parish Centre, which includes offices, auditoriums and an indoor sports arena, also generate energy for the church, which is currently undergoing expansion work, for a chapel and for the living quarters.

The installed maximum capacity is 46.1 kW and its monthly generation is estimated at around 6,700 kWh.

“It is more than an energy issue, it is a question of being in tune with Laudato Si,” the priest explained, referring to Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical, published in May 2015, and the church’s duty to be a “reference point and witness.”

With the new resources, the parish will be able to enhance evangelisation work and pastoral care for children, the elderly and prisoners, he said.

Their example is expected to inspire the other 60 parishes that make up the diocese based in the neighbouring city of Cajazeiras, says César Nóbrega, coordinator of the Semi-Arid Renewable Energy Committee (CERSA), which promotes the use of solar energy and other alternative sources in and around Sousa, a large municipality with an 80 percent urban population.

The first solar-powered school in Paraíba was inaugurated on the same day, Jul. 6.

Local farming couple Marlene and Genival Lopes dos Santos stand next to solar panels that are part of community-shared generation, which reduces their electricity bill and those of their urban partners, who live in the cities of Sousa and João Pessoa, capital of the state of Paraiba, 400 km away, in Brazil's Northeast. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Local farming couple Marlene and Genival Lopes dos Santos stand next to solar panels that are part of community-shared generation, which reduces their electricity bill and those of their urban partners, who live in the cities of Sousa and João Pessoa, capital of the state of Paraiba, 400 km away, in Brazil’s Northeast. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Twelve solar panels will save 350 to 400 kWh per month for the Dione Diniz primary and secondary school, in a rural district of Sousa, São Gonçalo, Brazil, which is the area with the highest level of solar radiation in Brazil and the second in the world, Nóbrega told IPS.

The aim is also to “disseminate information and promote discussions with teachers, students and the local community about the solar potential in mitigating climate change,” he said.

“We included it in the school’s Pedagogical Intervention Project, which chooses a theme for each two-month period, with renewable energy as its flagship,” said Clemilson Lacerda, the school’s science teacher.

“We don’t yet know how much we will save on the electricity bill, which reached 1,700 reais (450 dollars) in June, but we will invest the savings in improving the school, in teaching materials and in food for the students,” school vice principal Analucia Casimiro told IPS.

From the small rooftop terrace of the Vó Ita Hotel you can see the solar energy boom in Sousa. The rooftop of the hotel itself is covered with photovoltaic panels, as well as two large rooftops below, of a gas station and a steakhouse.

Nearby there are industrial warehouses, houses, stores, pharmacies, car dealerships and supermarkets which are also using the new source of energy, as well as companies that consume a lot of energy, such as cold storage warehouses and ice-cream parlours.

“I reduced my energy costs to zero,” young entrepreneur Paulo Gadelha, a partner in a company that has a poultry slaughterhouse, farm, dairy products factory and store, told IPS. It generates its own electricity with 60 solar panels placed over the truck parking lot at its slaughterhouse.

“In 2014, when we founded CERSA, there was not a single solar energy system in Sousa; today we have more than 100 installed,” said Nóbrega, the head of the organisation, which brings together public and private institutions, researchers and collaborators, with the mission of making “solar power the main source of energy” in Brazil’s semi-arid Northeast.

School vice principal Analucia Casimiro (C) and science teacher Clemilson Lacerda (R) pose for a picture with solar power expert Cesar Nóbrega (left) in the yard of the Dione Diniz School, the first public elementary school to have solar energy in Paraíba, the Brazilian state most threatened by desertification. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

School vice principal Analucia Casimiro (C) and science teacher Clemilson Lacerda (R) pose for a picture with solar power expert Cesar Nóbrega (left) in the yard of the Dione Diniz School, the first public elementary school to have solar energy in Paraíba, the Brazilian state most threatened by desertification. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

This activism, rooted in the fight against climate change that tends to aggravate local drought, succeeded in mobilising many stakeholders from universities, civil society and the public sector in seminars, forums and courses.

“CERSA was not born to install generation systems, but to debate,” raise awareness and encourage public policies, Nóbrega said.

But in practice it also acts as a disseminator of solar plants on two fronts: corporate and social.

It stimulated the creation in 2015 of Ative Energy, the largest installer of photovoltaic systems in Sousa and executor of the Solar Parish project, conceived by CERSA. Today there are five solar power companies in the city.

“By November 2017 we had installed 40 systems; now there are 196. We used to employ only five workers, now there are 30: we grew sixfold in six months,” said Frank Araujo, owner of Ative, whose operations spread over 26 cities in five states of the Brazilian Northeast.

In Brazil, solar generation represents only 0.8 percent of current installed capacity, but it is the fastest growing source of energy. According to the National Electric Energy Agency (ANEEL), the sector’s regulatory body, it accounts for 8.26 percent of the energy in new construction projects.

Danilo Gadelha, one of the leading members of Sousa’s business community, is a co-owner of Ative and also its main client. He hired the company to install solar power plants in the companies of his conglomerate Vó Ita, comprising distributors of food and cooking gas, a vegetable oil factory, a hotel, a construction company, a gas station and a cemetery.

Entrepreneur Paulo Gadelha uses his cell-phone under the solar panel rooftop covering part of the truck park area at his poultry slaughterhouse. Thanks to solar energy, Gadelha reduced electricity costs to zero in the slaughterhouse, a dairy plant, a store and his family's home in the Brazilian municipality of Sousa, in the northeast of the country. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Entrepreneur Paulo Gadelha uses his cell-phone under the solar panel rooftop covering part of the truck park area at his poultry slaughterhouse. Thanks to solar energy, Gadelha reduced electricity costs to zero in the slaughterhouse, a dairy plant, a store and his family’s home in the Brazilian municipality of Sousa, in the northeast of the country. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“I started trying solar energy as a user,” before offering it as an installer and “going from a large-scale energy consumer to an entrepreneur,” he told IPS. The company’s energy costs are close to 23,500 dollars a month.

Ative Energy has a major competitive advantage. As it has a great amount of capital, it finances the solar plants it installs at the lowest interest rates on the market.

This is what it did with the Parish of Sousa, which is paying off the financing in monthly installments lower than the amount saved in the electricity bill. “We will repay everything in three and a half years,” said the parish priest, because little more than a third of the project was paid for in cash with donations.

Since the equipment has a 25-year life span, the church will have free energy for more than 20 years.

The solar energy units in companies and large houses are important for the CERSA campaign as a demonstration of solar power’s viability and economic and environmental benefits, acknowledged Nóbrega.

But the campaign also succeeded in attracting the interest of funds and institutions that support social projects.

Thus, in 2016, the Solar Semi-Arid Project was born, made up of CERSA, Caritas Brazil – the social body of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference – and the Forum on Climate Change and Justice, with financial support from Misereor, the development aid body of the German Catholic Church.

This allowed the Dione Diniz School to obtain its solar plant, financed part of the Solar Parish system, and distributed water pumping devices and biodigesters in rural communities, as well as making it possible to offer training courses for “solar electricians” in Sousa and nearby municipalities.

In addition to providing cheap and clean energy, decentralised photovoltaic generation is an economic alternative for Brazil’s semi-arid Northeast which is at risk of becoming completely arid due to climate change, warned Nóbrega.

In the state of Paraíba – where Sousa is located – 93.7 percent of the territory is in the process of desertification, according to the Programme to Combat Desertification and Mitigate the Effects of Drought in that northeastern Brazilian state.

Q&A: Honouring Women of Africa and the Diaspora

Ambassador Amina Mohamed, an international civil servant and the current Kenyan minister for education, science, technology and innovation, is this year’s recipient of the African Woman of Excellence award.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 9 2018 (IPS)

This year, the African Union and the Diaspora African forum are honouring the first woman minister for education in Kenya for her long and outstanding work in girls’ education and governance.

The annual African Women of Excellence Awards (AWEA) recognises and honours women of Africa and the diaspora who have contributed to the struggle for political, social and economic independence.

This year’s theme pays tribute to the first iconic recipient of the AWEA Committee’s Living Legends Award Winnie Madikizela Mandela.”Girls fail to acquire an education because of violence, which includes kidnapping, maiming as well as sexual abuse, exploitation and bullying. Statistics indicate that less than five percent of girls in rural-conflict settings in Africa complete secondary education.” — Ambassador Amina Mohamed, Kenya’s minister for education, science, technology and innovation.

Receiving the honour during a celebration in Sept. 29 to 30 will be Ambassador Amina Mohamed, an international civil servant and the current Kenyan minister for education, science, technology and innovation.

Previously, Mohamed served as the minister for foreign affairs and international trade, deputy executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme and permanent secretary in the ministry of justice, national cohesion and constitutional affairs where she played a key role in creating the 2010 Constitution in Kenya.

Most recently, she has worked tirelessly in the arenas of women’s empowerment and girls’ education in Kenya and around the world, especially as co-chair of the Commonwealth High Level Platform for Girls’ Education which works to put 130 million out of school girls back in the classroom.

IPS spoke to Ambassador Mohamed about her inspirations, career, and ongoing challenges in education. Excerpts of the interview follow:

Inter Press Service (IPS): What does it mean for you to be receiving the African Woman of Excellence award? How does this award advance the key issues you work on?

Amina Mohamed (AM): The AWEA is a great honour which I accept with humility and gratitude; and which I share with my family, colleagues and friends who have encouraged me all along.

The award is recognition that I have made a demonstrable contribution towards the progress of my country and in enriching the lives of our people. It is a very important award that will no doubt inspire other women in the country, and especially young girls, to develop confidence in themselves and in their ability to make positive and tangible impact in their communities and nations.

The award reinforces my commitment to bequeath the youth a legacy greater than my heritage. I feel re-energised and challenged to keep doing more.

IPS: You have a long and distinguished career as a diplomat and international civil servant. What drove you where you are today?

AM: I have always believed that the script of your life is yours to write.

I grew up in a society where existing norms defined a lesser role and position for womena notion I was uncomfortable with from an early age having been brought up by a strong mother. I therefore made a conscious and deliberate decision to cultivate my own success in the knowledge that great careers are not hereditary; they must be seeded, grown and nurtured.

My humble upbringing reinforced my commitment to serve others and to emphasise with different situations in the knowledge that every challenge has a solution and everyone has the capacity to live a dignified life and to make a contribution.

At every stage in my professional journey, I have learned to embrace those virtues that define successful careers particularly those moral and civic values that are needed to not only make us better people but to also make our country a better place in which to live for all.

IPS: Would you say that the millions of girls who don’t go to school is a global crisis? What have been some of the challenges you have faced or seen working towards girls’ access to education, and what has Kenya done differently to address this issue?

AM: It certainly is a global crisis. The Global Education Monitoring Report, 2018 indicates that only 66 percent of countries have achieved gender parity in primary education, 45 percent in lower secondary and only 25 percent in upper secondary. Other statistics are more frighteningUNESCO [U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation] estimates that 130 million girls aged between six and 17 are out of school. An additional five million girls of primary-school age will never enter a classroom.

What this means is that millions of girls are being denied a fair and just chance in life. Without education, girls are exposed to serious insecurities and dangers, including early marriage, sexual exploitation, diseases, poverty and servitude. This crisis goes beyond the unfulfilled lives of girls who miss out on education and involves serious loss of economic benefits and opportunities.

Among the critical challenges that impede girls’ education are poverty, conflict and violence, early marriages, harmful traditional practices, long distances to school, and inadequate menstrual hygiene.

In Kenya, we have been implementing wide ranging measures to address these challenges including readmission of girls who get pregnant while in school; outlawing FGM [Female Genital Mutilation] and introducing rescue centres for girls running away from FGM or early marriages; provision of sanitary towels to girls in public primary schools; and introduction of free primary and day secondary education, which has ensured that no child, boy or girl, misses out on education needlessly.

As a global crisis, concerted global action is required to ensure all girls access education. Multi-sectoral approaches and the sharing of best practices in a collaborative effort involving governments, civil society organisations, multilateral organisations and the private sector holds the key to addressing this crisis.

IPS: Conflict has proliferated in many parts of the world, making education even more inaccessible for many children. How should the international community address the issue of education for refugee or displaced children?

AM: Emergencies and protracted conflicts ruin the education systems of affected countries. Girls fail to acquire an education because of violence, which includes kidnapping, maiming as well as sexual abuse, exploitation and bullying. Statistics indicate that less than five percent of girls in rural-conflict settings in Africa complete secondary education.

Humanitarian aid for education is acknowledged as a way forward in ensuring provision of education for refugee and displaced children.

Despite this recognition, humanitarian aid for education remains very lowcatering, by 2015 estimates, for only two percent of requirements. To overcome this challenge, a possible way forward is for humanitarian agencies and development actors to come together and set up a specialised funding stream that meets the other 98 percent of the requirements for education in conflict situations.

IPS: Recently the ministry of education launched a policy on disaster management in response to the impacts of heavy rains on schools and the education sector. How important is it to have such a policy, especially as extreme weather and disasters become more prevalent? Is this a move that other countries should consider?

AM: We have experienced many disasters in Kenya, including droughts, floods, fires, and even conflicts. These have routinely disrupted learning and damaged education infrastructure in affected areas.

While efforts to address climate change gets underway, it is clear now that extreme weather events are getting more frequent and intense. There is every indication, therefore, that we will experience severe flooding, landslides and droughts into the future.

We must therefore prepare for these eventualities so that we do not experience the same disruptions and losses in the education sector that we have undergone in the past. This underscores the need for comprehensive disaster risk reduction and management policies. The launch of this policy was in fact long overdue.

In the modern world, preparedness or risk reduction is a necessity not a choice. Countries that fail to plan will bear the heaviest burden as the effects of climate change intensify.

IPS: What is your message to Kenyans in light of this award?

AM: The well-being of our country, now and in the future, lies in our hands. Building a country is a collective responsibility and exercise in which each one of us has a role to play and a contribution to make. In making our contribution, in whatever capacity, we must embrace the virtues of hard work, careful reflection, patriotism, honesty, accountability, justice and fairness and the pursuit of public good. I believe that my adherence to these virtues have inspired this award.

In so doing, I recall the words of the late Nobel Laureate Professor Wangari Mathai that: “Every one of us can make a contribution. And quite often we are looking for the big things and forget that, wherever we are, we can make a contribution. Sometimes I tell myself, I may only be planting a tree here, but just imagine what’s happening if there are billions of people out there doing something. Just imagine the power of what we can do.”