CEE alumnus harnesses the wind in Nicaragua
A CEE alumnus received the CNN Heroes award in July for his persistent hard work and ingenuity in providing sustainable electricity to isolated communities along Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast.
Just after getting his S.M. degree from MIT in 2003, Mathias Craig, his brother Guillaume, and their childhood friend Lâl Marandin founded a nonprofit company called blueEnergy, which builds and installs wind turbines in rural communities of Nicaragua. BlueEnergy manufactures the turbines and many components locally to keep costs down and make servicing the equipment easier, as well as create much-needed jobs. To date, the organization has installed eight turbines in six communities, benefiting 1,500 people who would otherwise have no electricity.
As part of the CNN Heroes program, a film crew accompanied blueEnergy employees to Monkey Point, one such isolated coastal community of 300 people. According to Craig, Monkey Point, like most of Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, has no roads and is accessible only by boat. The CNN crew filmed the last several days of the 14-day process of building and installing the electrical system, as well as the evening celebration under the lights that followed.
The Monkey Point electrical system, made up of a 1 kilowatt turbine and 100 watts of solar panels, provides enough electricity to power a school and a radio link to the outside world, and to charge batteries for a health clinic and eight homes. BlueEnergy hopes to add a second energy system in Monkey Point to run an integrated water pumping, purification, storage and distribution system.
Other blueEnergy projects include a new hybrid wind/solar energy system in Kakabila, a Meskito Indian community north of blueEnergy’s headquarters in Bluefields, Nicaragua. This system produces electricity for two schools and a community center, and serves as a community battery-charging station. Another project team installed a similar system in Set Net, a seaside community that now takes advantage of the strong, steady winds off the Caribbean.
Showing that real life has no neatly wrapped happy endings, lightning struck blueEnergy headquarters on July 31, the very night the Heroes episode aired on the “Anderson Cooper 360˚” show. While nobody was hurt, the power surge destroyed the majority of the office’s electronic equipment.
Debbie Levey of Civil & Environmental Engineering contributed to the reporting and writing of this story.