Ideology of the Girona Group of the Engineering Without Borders Catalonia
The Girona group was created in 2001, when a group of students and professors from the University of Girona, dissatisfied with the current energy model and the overexploitation of natural resources, began to organize activities and awareness days for the university community and the population of Girona. Later, an international cooperation project in Ecuador was initiated.
Currently, the project “A new energy culture is possible! (Phase IX)”, aims to give continuity to this project launched nine years ago. This will include a series of awareness and advocacy activities on access to energy, accomplishment of human rights and social and environmental impacts derived from current energy model.
To this end, since 2004, conferences and lectures have been held to denounce the impacts of the extractive industries, an attempt to highlight the role played by these companies in different areas. It emphasizes that our model of exploitation of energy and natural resources in the North has a direct effect on the impacts of the South.
The past few years, we devoted more efforts into the field of renewable energies education, trying to reach all interested people: from technical workshops in civic centers to offering practical training with teachers from institutes and schools to complement curricular theory.
We are part of the educational services of the City Council. We collaborate and offer educational dynamic days to children, where all the Girona schools, the science fair and the vegetable garden activity take part.
We also carry out activities for a more adult audience, such as participation in the city’s solidarity cinema, organize documentary exhibitions about what we find interesting and organize lectures on topics we think we do not know enough.
The experience of Girona’s EWB group in Ecuador goes back to 2003, when a group of engineering students visited the country to make a first identification of the ground. From this identification in the north of the country’s Amazon, a paradox was drawn that motivated this group to start projects in this area. It was identified that rural communities do not have access to energy, right where hydrocarbons are extracted to supply energy to other parts of the world, such as ours. This reality allowed us to propose projects to favor an energy model based on renewable energies, in addition to monitoring the environmental and social impacts of oil extraction in the Amazon. We use the latter aspect to raise awareness in the north as well about how our energy model also has impacts in very distant places.
EWB-Girona has always worked in the Ecuadorian Amazon Region (EAR). Cooperation projects to promote development began in 2005. In the initial phase, that took around 3 years, cooperation was engaged to develop pilot projects, intermittent over time and coinciding with the temporary availability of students and university professors, mostly from the University of Girona. These projects were aimed at the promotion of renewable energy and the improvement of environmental management, lines of work that are now consolidated. This period allowed the association to know first-hand the reality of the area and to develop and consolidate its relations with decentralized local autonomous associations and governments.
From 2008 EWB was able to establish itself permanently with expatriate personnel in the province of Orellana, one of the six Amazonian provinces. Currently the expatriate team has two people and three lines of work: Renewable Energy, Environmental Management, and Water Supply. Within these lines, more than 14 projects have been executed. Currently there are work spots in the City of Coca and Puyo.
Our expatriates are, however, freed volunteers who coordinate the continuity of the project, helping to identify possible actions, being part of the justifications and formulations for funders, or planning the activities of our volunteers when they visit the ground, among other things. Throughout this period, we have had more than 30 volunteers who have moved and who, within the Reality and Recognition Programs (PCRs) or other formats, supported the project once they knew a very different social and environmental context, especially when compared to ours in Catalonia.
Below is the list of some of the actions executed in Ecuador, only in the renewable energy line of EWB-Girona.
- Electrification of schools in the rural area with isolated photovoltaic systems.
- Support to REST, a community tourism network, through the design of photovoltaic systems for the 13 communities involved and electrification of three of them.
- Design of studies to electrify communities with renewables in Orellana (three communities were financed by the state).
- Diagnosis of the state of photovoltaic systems installed in Orellana by the public electricity distributor (474 families).
- Participation in fairs in the province of Orellana, invited by local institutions to raise awareness of the use of renewable technologies (four fairs, more than a thousand participants).
- Theoretical-practical course in renewables in the technical secondary school of an institute of the city of Coca (more than 90 students trained and sensitized during three courses).
- Three or four days of training to reinforce knowledge for the management of isolated photovoltaic systems, aimed at community technicians and public institutions (8 processes with more than 170 participants).
- Education of a theoretical-practical day followed by a multi-day installation process. Mainly in rural schools in isolated communities (14 cases, 198 participants).
- Training in communities with facilities for the management and use of photovoltaic systems. Directed to the entire population of the communities (26 processes, 411 participants).
- Design and application of the course “Applied Renewable Energy” for students of the Amazon State University (80 hours, 30 students).
- Collection of information on families without access to basic services in isolated areas that is transferred to institutions with competence in water and energy.
- Development of study models and management models for electrification through renewables in communities, minimizing the environmental and social impact of the works.
The focused and constant work has given us a remarkable knowledge of the context to the point that in 2013 attracted the attention of the Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy, from its National Renewable Energy Directorate (DNER). DNER asked us to cooperate in 2013 in the province of Pastaza, a territory that has no intervention or access to the most basic services of the country and counts with the presence of up to 11 indigenous nationalities. There, a new Renewable Energy Area would be created in the public electricity distributor, with no experience in the electrification process of isolated areas.
Since then, we have been working in this province: incorporating information from families without access to basic services in the most isolated areas, designing innovative models of electrification studies with the largest possible participation of communities and the lowest environmental impact, training the technicians of the institution in renewable technologies, developing photovoltaic training/installation processes in isolated schools, etc.
The strategy with this distributor is already coming to an end, we have managed to get the Ministry to finance the first 22 electrification studies with photovoltaic of Kitchwa, Achuar, Sapares and Shiwiar communities of Pastaza. In 2017, when the execution of the projects will begin, we want to start working to ensure the sustainability of these facilities. Initially leaving to the electrical distributor systematized models of the entire installation process to make them with the greatest possible participation of the communities and facilitating their empowerment.