By Diego Ponce de Leon Barido and Josiah Johnston

Rolling black outs and high electricity prices were a common ritual in Nicaragua a decade ago. Schools and shops often languished for hours without power. Hotels and restaurants relied on kerosene, candles and expensive generators to keep businesses open. From a financial and health perspective, this was not sustainable.

Recent renewable energy investments have led to positive change in Nicaragua. Almost 190 MW of wind energy have come online. And access to electricity now covers 4/5 of the country versus just over half at the turn of the century. Electricity outages still occur, but less frequently. However, the country is still hoping for positive change from an economic perspective. Electricity in Nicaragua costs roughly twice as much as it does in California.

An innovative solution tested by early-stage company, NiuEra has helped Nicaragua confront this challenge. In order for Nicaragua to transition from an oil-based electrical grid to a cleaner and more reliable alternative, the most important first step was a thorough analysis of all the different scenarios out there. National Geographic provided a Great Energy Challenge grant for NiuEra to do just that. NiuEra incorporates smart analytics and cloud-based data and also develops new technologies and information systems at the household level, all with the purpose of contributing to a low-carbon transformation. NiuEra collaborates with the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Lab (RAEL) who developed an open access data and open source modeling tool, called SWITCH. Simply put, SWITCH is a sophisticated data approach employing dozens of pathways to help forge the best decisions about natural resource use.

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