Solar energy projects lower bills in Rio de Janeiro favelas

Solar energy projects lower bills in Rio de Janeiro favelas
Solar energy projects lower bills in Rio de Janeiro favelas

In a hillside slum with breathtaking views of Rio de Janeiro's famous Copacabana beach, a rooftop covered in photovoltaic panels glitters in the tropical sun -- one of many in Brazil's first favela solar energy project.

The solar panels on the roof of a community organisation in the Babilonia favela take one thing the impoverished neighbourhood has in abundance -- sunshine -- and use it to lower electricity bills while expanding renewable power sources.

The 60 panels feed electricity directly to the grid. In return, the utility company gives 34 families participating in the cooperative a much-needed discount on their bills.

Another 44 panels are installed atop private businesses, including a local hostel, which also receive discounts as part of the co-op.

"People in the favelas all too often have to decide between paying their electricity bills and buying food," says the head of the co-op, Stefano Motta.

"More and more residents are coming to us with complaints about their light bills -- sometimes 600 reais ($125) a month or more. 

We're using that to raise awareness about the importance of solar energy for the economy and the environment," says the 45-year-old Italian, who moved to Rio a decade ago and now lives in Chapeu Mangueira -- the favela next to Babilonia, which also takes part in the co-op.

The project was launched last June by community leaders and a non-profit organisation called Revolusolar.

It comes at a critical moment for favela residents struggling to pay their bills. The average electricity price for residential customers in Brazil is expected to increase by 21 percent this year, after rising seven percent last year, according to the National Electric Energy Agency (ANEEL).