Revolusolar: Solar Energy in Babilônia and Chapéu-Mangueira [PROFILE] #SustainableFavelaNetwork

Sustainable Favela Network* Profile

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Initiative: Revolusolar
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Year Founded: 2015
Community: Babilônia and Chapéu-Mangueira (South Zone)
Mission: To carry out research, production, and management of renewable energy and offer training and education for the local population on the social, economic, and environmental benefits of solar energy.
Public Events: Revolusolar offers workshops and courses about solar energy and sustainability.
How to Contribute: Become a member or volunteer, contribute to the group’s research, or attend a workshop.

Brazil’s sunlight is an abundant and free resource. On average, there is 30% more sunlight per year in Rio de Janeiro as in major cities across Germany, yet Germany ranks much higher than Brazil in terms of in-home, citizen-produced green energy.

Seeking to harness Brazil’s solar energy capacity, Revolusolar is a community-based nonprofit organization that produces, researches, and manages renewable energy in the communities of Morro da Babilônia and Chapéu-Mangueira, in Rio’s South Zone. Through collaborative volunteer work involving electricians, entrepreneurs from the favela, and the Babilônia and Chapeu Mangueira Residents’ Associations, Revolusolar seeks to educate community members about the benefits of renewable energy.

Revolusolar’s current president, Adalberto Almeida, 40, co-founded the organization in 2015, together with Belgian entrepreneur Pol Dhuyvetter and other community members. After completing a training course, in 2016 Almeida helped complete Revolusolar’s two pilot projects: installing solar panels at Babilônia Rio Hostel and at Estrelas da Babilônia, a guesthouse and restaurant. Almeida became the first photovoltaic panel installer in Babilônia. Almeida says that he knew very little about solar energy prior to his involvement with the project. “It was during the first pilot project in the community that I came to understand what sustainable energy is,” he explains.

An initial challenge facing Revolusolar was framing solar energy as something attainable and relevant for residents of Babilônia. While some residents are hesitant about the idea, as president of the organization, Almeida—a resident of Babilônia for eighteen years—has helped increase local participation. Since developing the two pilot projects, the organization has shifted its focus to better serve the needs of residents. “Today the project is more representative of Babilônia and Chapéu-Mangueira to the residents,” Almeida says.

Confronted with soaring electricity rates charged by public electric utility Light, Revolusolar intends to generate energy independence—paving the way for a democratic and sustainable future by serving as a model for other communities in Rio de Janeiro and across the country. In 2012, the National Agency for Electric Energy (ANEEL) passed a resolution allowing individuals to produce energy at home and, in return, earn credits towards their electric bills through what is known as an “energy compensation system”—a critical development for initiatives like Revolusolar. According to Revolusolar’s secretary, Juan Cuervo, 29, the group’s research shows that in total, residents of Babilônia pay Light more than R$1,000,000 (US$250,000) per year. “The money that is being spent [on electricity] each year could stay within the community,” Cuervo said.

At the same time, the Revolusolar team remains aware of immediate and urgent issues facing residents. Cuervo describes: “The favela has bigger problems than whether [residents] are consuming petroleum-based or solar energy. We can’t ever lose sight of this. So, the first objective is to reduce residents’ electricity bills. The romanticization of solar energy will help to create an alternative model later on, but the first issue is that there are residents here with monthly salaries of R$900 (US$225) who are paying bills of R$600-700 (US$150-175)—so people are having to choose between electricity and food.”

Revolusolar’s work in Babilônia and Chapéu-Mangueira demonstrates the potential for residents to consume and produce renewable energy within the community. Today the project consists of a team of twenty to thirty volunteers, including many favela residents, and aims to directly improve the residents’ lives. According to Cuervo, the organization aims to prepare residents for the rise of solar energy in Brazil: “[By then,] people will already understand what solar energy is. It won’t be something new—like it was for Almeida three years ago. People from here in the community will know how to do installations, maintain [solar panels], and do everything that gives the community autonomy. [Furthermore], they are able to work outside of the community and generate income.”

In December 2018, Revolusolar took the strategic next step of installing panels in a central community space, the Tia Percília School in Babilônia. The community school is more than 25 years old but recently lost funding that it had been receiving from a Swedish NGO. According to Cuervo, the school has 30 students but is large enough for 180. Rather than expanding to fulfill its potential, it is on the brink of closure simply due to a lack of financial support. Through this project, Revolusolar hopes to affirm the school’s place at the heart of the community. Also, “the installation at the school expands the horizons of residents who have the means to install [panels] to sustain their families but are afraid of how [the panels] work. It’s an opportunity for them to believe in the project,” according to Almeida.

Revolusolar’s advocacy includes children, the future generation of sustainable energy innovators. Revolusolar’s members educate children from a young age about the benefits of solar energy so that they grow up conscious of its potential. Once per month, Revolusolar hosts a class at the Tia Percília School about solar energy and sustainability.

Revolusolar has recently established a partnership with Solar On, a company to which Revolusolar refers clients that are interested in receiving solar energy installations. For each sale made through the partnership, Revolusolar receives a commission which allows them to train more residents. Each sale also guarantees that at least one resident who is trained as a solar energy installer by Revolusolar will be contracted as a Solar On team member, gaining compensation and training to enter this new market. For the client, the partnership represents the possibility of installing more efficient and cleaner energy, receiving a high quality service for a very competitive price on the market, and helping to develop the sector in Rio’s communities.

In the future, Almeida hopes for Revolusolar to install panels on residents’ homes throughout the community. Though he acknowledges that this will be expensive, Revolusolar has already benefited from three funding opportunities from the CASA Socio-Environmental Fund; received grants from the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the European Federation of Renewable Energy Cooperatives (RESCOOP); received technical support from the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the Brazilian Organization of Cooperatives (OCB); and actively participated in the national network of the Front for a New Energy Policy for Brazil. Additionally, Almeida and Cuervo emphasize that the continued support of the Babilônia and Chapeu Mangueira Residents’ Associations is crucial to the organization’s success. “Without their support, our project would stand still,” Cuervo says.

Another goal for the organization is to develop an energy production cooperative, an initiative that could serve as a model for other communities. Although the cooperative is still in an early phase of development, Cuervo remains hopeful. “Brazil’s potential for solar energy is enormous,” Cuervo says. “The project stems from creating a strong foundation for the future. When solar energy really takes off in Brazil, the community will already be prepared to take advantage of it.”

*Revolusolar is one of over 100 community projects mapped by Catalytic Communities (CatComm), the organization that publishes RioOnWatch, as part of our parallel ‘Sustainable Favela Network‘ program launched in 2017 to recognize, support, strengthen, and expand on the sustainable qualities and community movements inherent to Rio de Janeiro’s favela communities. Check out all the profiles of mapped projects here.