On/off. Before and after. From dark into light. The most moving moment comes when, at long last, the first street light comes on, changing in an instant the life of the community of Boulevard da Paz, one of the many favelas in the endless suburbs of São Paulo in Brazil, forever.
It is difficult for anyone who hasn’t experienced it to understand what the arrival of electric lighting on your street or road means. There is even greater reason for celebration if the energy powering that light comes from the infinite source of the sun and the lights themselves were made by the local residents. The São Paulo favela’s “Let there be light!” moment was greeted by an explosion of enthusiasm as a great roar went up followed by long applause. It felt like the Seleção had scored a goal in the World Cup final!
In this particular instance, the goal was scored by the NGO Litro de Luz (the Brazilian branch of Liter of Light), a partner in the volunteer project of Eletropaulo, a company acquired by Enel. The work began symbolically on 28 August, the day on which Brazil celebrates volunteering, and finished on 1 September. “We are all absolutely delighted with this initiative because it has brought us the marvellous benefit of light,” commented Ms. Cida, a representative of the local community.
All of the 20 street lights were made from very simple materials: an electric circuit made using recycled parts, an LED, a recycled plastic bottle as a bulb, a solar panel for power generation and a rechargeable lithium battery to guarantee night-time lighting. So this was a double victory for sustainability: renewable sources and, from a circular economy perspective, the recycling of otherwise polluting waste materials. Furthermore, in order to maximise efficiency, a centralised system uses the ambient lighting conditions in order to determine when to turn the lights on and off.
Around 350 people will benefit from the new light that will improve their quality of life and safety on the streets. The local football pitch has been included too, of course, and now boys and girls can play there in the evening. The joy of light is another goal scored.
Inclusion and involvement
Alongside its focus on environment, the collaboration between our Group and Litro de Luz also sees the application of another of the Enel Group’s cornerstone principles: the involvement and inclusion of local communities. Before the installation work, representatives of the NGO organised volunteer training for residents of the favela and Enel colleagues, dozens of whom signed up. The training also included maintenance of the lights – the local citizens will take care of that themselves while the NGO will make periodic checks.
One of the volunteers, Vinicius José, told us: “The result of this work is really overwhelming. It’s a huge satisfaction. I am sure it will live on inside of me – and many others here – for the rest of my life.”
Closing the circle
Litro de Luz uses solar energy to provide electricity to people without access to it. But the Boulevard da Paz street lights are just its latest project in Brazil. For example, Enel Green Power has developed another Liter of Light project near the site of the Morro do Chapéu Sul wind plant, which is under construction in the State of Bahia, benefitting around 90 families that previously did not have access to energy.
The idea began in Brazil when an inventive mechanic called Alfredo Moser used a plastic bottle to make his own solar light during a blackout in 2002 – this is why the bottles are still referred to as Moser bottles.
His neighbours immediately copied his ingenious idea which became the heart of the Liter of Light project in 2012, when it was picked up by Italian-Filipino businessman Illac Angelo Diaz whose My Shelter Foundation promotes low-cost sustainable initiatives. Today, Liter of Light is active in 15 countries, from the Philippines to Colombia, Pakistan and Kenya. But the circle was closed when it came back home to Brazil in 2014.
Liter of Light began collaborating with the Enel Group the following year as part of the We are Energy project aimed at the children of our employees throughout the world. The children made solar bottles that were then installed in a small village in Mexico that previously had no electricity.
In December of the same year, we officially signed the partnership agreement at the climate summit in Paris (COP 21), confirming our commitment to the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and, in particular, to SDG 7 (to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all).
There are currently more than a billion people worldwide with no access to electricity and the problem affects a million families in Brazil alone. Families that, thanks in part to the “solar bottles,” are discovering a whole new emotion: the joy of light even during the night.