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When Professor Dr. Norbert Willenbacher and his brother Matthias decided to donate solar panels that were no longer needed to the village of Independencia in Bolivia, the two had never expected such bureaucratic hurdles. Quite a few people had even advised them against the elaborate undertaking, but the Willenbacher brothers were not dissuaded from their plan. When it already looked as if the transport would finally fail due to logistics, new possibilities opened up again thanks to the support of many helpers. In the meantime, the solar panels are well packed and on their way by Eveon Containers to the Bolivian Andean city in the province of Ayopaya and are expected to arrive there in October.
The PV modules at Schneebergerhof. Photo: Willenbacher
Electricity is scarce and expensive in Bolivia
But why does Bolivia actually need solar panels? The problem is that many areas in Bolivia - one of the poorest countries in South America - still have no access to electricity. The country still has one of the lowest rural electrification rates on the Latin American continent, despite government efforts. And where electricity is available, it is very expensive by Bolivian standards at 1 euro per kilowatt hour. In fact, electricity in Bolivia is about four times more expensive than in Germany.
Norbert Willenbacher explains the project by saying: "Our modules serve to create small power islands for the recipients, where they are independent of the electricity infrastructure." The PV panels will be used to supply power to around 100 remote farms without grid access, the "Ayopaya" radio station, and a cultural center in the region.
Contact with Independencia was established through Jorge "Coco" Aquino, who has been working for many years to advance development projects in his native Bolivian region. He finds further support in Germany with the help of the circle of friends "Inti Ayllus". Together, they keep finding cooperation partners and donors. The contact had been made by Ludger Grünewald, a school friend who has been supporting social projects in Bolivia and Chile for decades and has many personal friendships with people in this region.
However, a project like this is more difficult than expected. Dismantling the solar panels, transporting them to South America, and setting them up on-site involves a great deal of logistical effort. One of the main problems is finding the right packaging materials and delivery capacity for shipping. In addition, the panels must also be assembled by professionally trained personnel in Independencia. And last but not least, customs is also a time and financial challenge that has to be taken into account.
The panels are now shipped and transported by the non-profit Donnersberger Initiative for People in Need, which enabled Coco Aquino to obtain a duty-free import of the solar panels. The assembly in Bolivia is done by expert volunteers of the association
Electricians without borders, financially supported by the German Environmental Aid and the GLS Bank.
Eveon offers support with a free shipping container
Just as the Willenbachers had overcome the last challenges, a new one arrived: the continuing global container shortage. In the wake of the Corona pandemic, demand in the U.S. and Europe for goods from Asia skyrocketed. At the same time, major logistics congestion occurred when important ports had to close due to the virus. Shipping containers have become a scarce commodity in Europe. "It was extremely difficult for us to even find a CSC-certified sea container for transport to Bolivia," says Norbert Willenbacher.
Professor Willenbacher with one of the 869 PV modules in front of the Eveon sea container. Photo: Willenbacher
When it looked as if there was no longer any possibility of realizing the project, Norbert Willenbacher searched for other container providers and turned to Eveon Containers in his time of need. Eveon CEO Aad Storm was immediately aware of the difficult situation of the venture and was eager to support the project.
Eveon Containers provided the initiative with a used container free of charge, much to the delight of the Willenbachers. Eveon Containers also paid for the transport of the container to the site of the solar panels in Schneebergerhof in Rhineland-Palatinate, where they were loaded into wooden crates made by Lebenshilfe Bad Dürkheim to specifications by master carpenter Heinz Wagner and with the help of corrugated cardboard supplied by a company in Sausenheim.
Safely packed, the solar panels are now on their way to Bolivia and are expected there soon. "Many individual helpers gave their utmost to save our endeavor, and for that we are forever grateful to all involved! We are very happy that we were able to make a small contribution to help the people of Bolivia," Willenbacher said. With the success of the "transplantación" - that is, the "transplantation" - of the modules, Coco Aquino's long-standing motto and goal of "Luz solar para los hijos del sol" (sunlight for the children of the sun) is finally becoming a reality.
Our container arrived as planned in the Bolivian Andes and the photovoltaic modules inside are intact.
The container will be converted into a solar laboratory.
More than a hundred farms, which until now had no electricity, will receive two modules each to operate LED lamps, mobile phones and radios.
Then five larger systems will be installed on community centres and schools.