By: Michelle Zimmerman
I am proud that Colorado has become a leader in renewable energy. Both public and private entities have invested in wind, hydropower and solar to provide sustainable benefits for Colorado. In a state that values our pristine environment and reaps economic benefits from the ample tourists that visit, it makes sense that we strive to be a leader in the renewable energy movement.
Coloradoans have poured over $2.5 billion into solar investment and more than 200,000 homes are currently powered by solar. This has created over 1,000 megawatts of capacity in solar energy in the state, producing enough energy to eliminate over 6,500 railcars of coal.
From home installations of solar panels to community solar farms and large-scale solar generators, I have worked in various segments of the solar industry over the last decade. I met our co-founders, Nick Killen and Lou Fabian through the MBA program at the University of Denver. The three of us have been working in renewable energy in Colorado for the last 12 years.
Recently, we decided we wanted to bring our expertise to less developed areas.
Across the globe, there are 1.2 billion people that don’t have access to electricity. People are using fossil fuels to generate electricity, or simply do not have access to consistent power - neither are sustainable. Additionally, many remote communities don’t have Internet, which limits their access to information, educational tools, healthcare, and more.
We believe that power and access to information are two essential tools that children should have available to empower them and their future. Thus, we created Pidola.
Pidola, which means leapfrog in Spanish, is committed to bringing solar electricity and satellite internet to South and Central American schools. After two years of initial site visits, we installed pilot projects in Pampa Jasi and Torotoro, two remote villages in Bolivia, thanks to our original connections with existing nonprofits that were working locally to build schools, community gardens, and teach citizens about clean water and basic healthcare. With a school and gathering area to build upon, adding electricity and internet provided numerous benefits including improved studying, cooking, refrigeration, and water filtration.
It is amazing to see people communicate across the greater region with the use of internet and leapfrog into new opportunities. The ability to leverage that original schoolhouse and amplify the learning is exponential. Previously, some of these Bolivians had to walk 1 to 2 days to access power and communications and many were leaving their villages for work and school - resulting in a diminishing economy for these already underproducing communities.
Electricity and internet give life to the learning process. Imagine our schools without light or electricity; imagine our students without internet. Pidola is changing the course of education for children in rural villages who are very eager to learn. We are providing these Bolivian kids the “miracles” of electricity and internet that most students in America take for granted.
Thanks to the donations from our initial supporters, in 2017 we made solar electricity and satellite internet a new reality for 84 rural Bolivian schoolchildren! Success was quickly acknowledged by local officials, and now the Ministry of Education, Bolivian Space Agency, and local nonprofits are working with us to identify recipients for dozens more projects and contribute to our success as much as possible.
In the spirit on Colorado Gives Day last week, we launched a campaign to raise funds to bring electricity and internet to carefully selected villages.
We have a short-term goal of three village installations by June 2019, consisting of building a solar electricity system (panels, batteries, charge controller, inverter) for the school that will power the satellite internet antenna and components as well as covering the monthly internet costs. Looking to the future, we would like to demonstrate the value of these projects to local officials and donors in order to duplicate the impact at a larger scale.
Our current and primary focus is on providing improved and exciting opportunities for children to learn and communities to thrive!
BIO: Michelle Zimmerman
With a passion for providing clean, reliable energy to customers throughout the West, and in rural developing areas of Latin America, Michelle expanded from a career in nonprofit management to focus on responsible solar development in 2008. Beginning in residential and off-grid projects, she became vice president of Innovative Energy, a solar installer in Summit County, CO and helped grow the company to include design-build-service for commercial solar projects. In 2014, Michelle worked with Clean Energy Collective to expand community solar across Colorado and has been developing large-scale solar facilities with Cypress Creek Renewables since February of 2017.With over 300 megawatts (MW) of solar development and two small solar+storage+satellite internet systems in rural Bolivia, Michelle has a proven record to navigate new terrain and successfully deliver projects. Michelle completed an MBA from Daniels College of Business (University of Denver) and serves as Vice Chair of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission. For more information on Pidola please visit Pidola.org.