Solar Project - Puerto Sandino (Volcano in background)
Sitting here in Granada on yet another cloudy afternoon. Its the rainy season down here to the forecast inevitably includes a few hours of thunderstorms each day that roll through each afternoon.
Nevertheless the first 13 days down here have been both frustrating at times yet also rewarding to see the results of past efforts over the last year. The picture above is from the first commercial sized (12.5MW) solar project in operation in the country that was still in the planning phase when I was down here last summer. Since then we've been working with a technical university, Universidad Tecnológica La Salle (ULSA), to develop a curriculum for solar construction and maintenance that would allow students to use our site as a hands on training location in conjunction with their classroom studies. For solar project developers it represents a means to lower project costs, taking advantage of lower labor costs compared to the current practice of bringing in European EPC's. For Nicaragua, it is an opportunity to give its students real world experience and gain a foothold in a industry that has exploded across Central and South America in recent years. Yet despite an obvious win-win situation, navigating the bureaucratic maze of approvals and process has been stifling. Strategizing who should be the lead on government requests and grant applications takes up hours of meeting time rather then moving the project forward.
Nicaragua has slowly crept up the "ease of doing business" rankings in recent years in an effort to attract more FDI, and while this has been successful to some degree, stagnation and resistance to change continues to prevent programs like ours from being implemented quickly. The government has been actively promoting the development of renewable energy and I hope both the solar project and our education platform (if implemented) will show the need to further expedite change, allowing universities and private sector players to be more adaptive to their respective needs.