What does it take to change the world for the better? Sometimes it’s as simple as a bright idea and a bit of help. That’s the philosophy behind the Shell #makethefuture program and its relationship with Brazilian social enterprise Insolar as they work together to improve the lives of 8,000 residents of a community in Brazil. The project is a real meeting of minds. Social enterprises are companies committed to solving a social or environmental problem. In Insolar’s case they want to use solar panels to deliver affordable electricity to low-income urban families with the goal of significantly improving the society, the economy, and the environment. Central to the success of their project is collaboration, not only with the local communities they hope to benefit but also with individuals and companies that can help make it happen. And this is where Shell comes in.
#makethefuture is a Shell global initiative to showcase bright energy ideas in action and demonstrate how they enable human progress. It is built around Shell’s conviction that to meet future energy demands we need to look beyond the major corporate players and unlock the ingenuity and creative spirit of the broader energy interested community. Now more than ever we need to inspire a new wave of thinkers, people committed to creating a smarter, cleaner energy future for our planet. That’s why programmes like Shell LiveWIRE actively support young entrepreneurs with business advice, and why #makethefuture is helping some of their best energy ideas make the leap from paper into practice.
Insolar presented Shell with a clever proposal around using solar panels to provide affordable energy for large numbers of low-income residents in Brazil’s urban communities. Their plan empowers locals to generate solar electricity in a way that brings substantial, inclusive, and long-lasting benefits to entire neighborhoods. What’s more, Insolar’s model can be easily replicated and rolled out to other low-income communities all around the world making it, potentially, a global game changer.
The scheme is the brainchild of Insolar founder, Henrique Drumond. While volunteering in Mozambique, Henrique saw how often a small gesture would have a great impact, opening his eyes to the broader benefits of affordable electricity—far beyond reducing bills or turning on TVs. This philosophy is being brought to life in the Santa Marta community in Rio de Janeiro. This was one of the first areas to be freed from the control of violent street gangs, and Santa Marta is now a colourful and welcoming community determined to build a better life for itself. It’s an aspiration that’s often held back by the high price and low reliability of its power supply. But while many residents may not have access to electricity, they do enjoy over 2,000 hours of sunlight every year. And this presents the exciting possibility of tapping into solar for a reliable and smarter energy solution.
The first stage of Insolar’s plan is to install photovoltaic panels on a community crèche, a children’s day care center, that currently deals with unstable electricity supply . As well as bringing many immediate benefits to the children, this will also allow the crèche to open longer hours and accept more attendees, enabling more parents and grandparents to work and earn a wage. In this way a single action will very quickly bring significant social and economic benefits to every generation of Santa Marta. Once this is successful, Insolar will begin rolling out even more photovoltaic panels for other community centres in Santa Marta.
The impact on the community will be nothing less than transformational. First it will mitigate the frequent and prolonged power outages, and the soaring electricity prices that have plagued the community in recent years. This opens up access to technology and enables new business activities, while reducing a dependence on dangerous and damaging fuels such as kerosene, thereby helping to improve health, safety, and the environment.
Insolar’s project was kick started at the first #makethefuture Accelerator event in Rio de Janeiro this month. Shell understands that bright energy ideas need nurturing, and that getting them off the ground involves more than investing money—it requires supportive mentoring. To help Insolar push through the inevitable barriers that can stall even the best ideas, Shell brought together around a hundred stakeholders and experts from a wide range of disciplines to offer their advice on making the most of the project—both within Santa Marta and beyond. It was a money-can’t-buy opportunity to tap into collective knowledge and brainstorm the challenges and opportunities the project presents.
Insolar is now taking steps to install the first photovoltaic panels. With the on-going support of Shell, the project is on track to have a profound and permanent impact on the people of Santa Marta. More than this, Shell and Insolar hope that Santa Marta will become an inspirational showcase for solar power that will fuel the project’s expansion to other communities, cities, and even countries. The extraordinary enthusiasm of Santa Marta’s residents not only makes them great allies in ensuring the project’s success, it is hoped they will also become vocal advocates of Insolar’s solution and living proof that a bright energy idea really can make a big difference.