Problem 1: 1.3 billion people live in the world with no access to electricity. In Colombia alone, 60% of the territory lacks connection to the national supply grid and around 12,000 communities do not have a reliable source of electricity. Problem 2: satellites do not have enough precision to accurately predict river floods, and installing measuring stations in remote areas would be too expensive. One problem alone is enough, and yet the communities established along rivers in remote areas often suffer both.
Fabián Suárez claims to have the ideal solution for both dilemmas. The Colombian, co-founder of e.Ray, has designed an infrastructure that combines the generation of renewable electric power from the flow of rivers with the obtention of data about them. Thanks to this initiative, the young man has been chosen by MIT Technology Review as one of the winners of Innovators Under 35 Latin America 2018.
The key for Suarez to tackle the two problems at once is in his creation of a new type of turbine capable of generating electricity without the need for a greater civil infrastructure and is also optimized to operate at low speeds with little streamflow discharge. Along with this turbine, solar panels are installed to complement the electrical production that will supply energy to some local process that will generate added value. "In the pilot carried out in Uganda, machines that manufacture ice were installed. The sale of this high value product to refrigerate milk allowed local farmers to improve their production performance," the Colombian innovator explains.
Once the matter of electricity supply was solved, Suárez installed monitors in the turbine. Through the use of two GPS sensors, these monitors were able to measure the water level variations to within a centimeter. "To be able to predict a flood, it is necessary to be able to detect any increase within centimeters because once we see a rise of meters, it will be too late," the young man states. When the monitors detect an upward deviation, an alert is issued to the local community so that they have enough time to react.
But the young man aims to solve even more problems with his work. "The root cause of migration in rural areas of Colombia is the lack of opportunities of development," Suarez says. His parents left their community in pursuit of a life with more opportunities near the big city. "Technology can reverse this process. It can make rural areas an attractive place to live," the young engineer says.
The manager of Wayra Venezuela, Gustavo Reyes, jury member of Innovators Under 35 Latin America 2018, considers the project of Suarez to be "a great initiative of high impact that can definitely contribute to improve the quality of life in the areas it is implemented."