The National Rural Electrification Program (PRONER) was established to promote and support economic development in rural areas in order to improve the living conditions and the quality of life of the population. The original objective of the program was to provide electrical services to 100 000 households in a time span of five years by means of renewable energy. To accomplish this ambitious goal, a number of projects have been carried out since early 1977. It is estimated that the total number of SHS systems installed to date is over 25 000, over half of them implemented after the year 2000 at a rate close to 2000 PV systems per year. However, most installations have gone to meet the needs of rural people with higher purchase power. Among other things, the long process for getting projects financed, the lack of experience in handling large programs of the sort, and a young institutional and regulatory framework for project implementation, made it impossible to reach the original goal.

Most projects in Bolivia have been carried out with financial support from foreign aid agencies and multilateral organizations. Early initiatives include the Rural Electrification Program with Renewable Energy through Popular Participation Process, or BOL/97/G31 as it is commonly known. This program, launched in 1997, was supported by an 8.2 million US$ UNDP-GEF grant and had the goal of installing 3000 SHS through 22 projects in five municipalities. It was aimed at removing financial, institutional, technical and human resource barriers to the massive application of photovoltaics.

Almost at the same time, the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and the Solar Energy Institute of the Polytechnic University of Madrid implemented a PV electrification project to bring electricity to the Aymara community in the high Bolivian plateau, with the purpose of fostering the development of a users’ organization with capabilities to manage and maintain PV installations [39]. By 1993, a total of 1000 SHS had already been installed and the Association for Solar Electrification (AES) had been created. This project has been studied thoroughly and important lessons derived therefrom [32].

Other relevant projects were carried out in this early period by organizations such as the GTZ with the PROPER program [43], NRECA, the local organization Rural Electricity Cooperative (CRE), who was a provider of complementary financing for the purchase of the PV systems and managed other aspects of project implementation, including the selection of users and providing technical training [40], the Cochabamba Electric Company (ELFEC), a privately owned electricity distribution company, who also financed the purchase of equipment and provided installation and maintenance services, and the local NGO Energetica.

A local model for project implementation has evolved over the years, based on this early experience. Alternative financing mechanisms have been tested around the micro-credit concept, having the PV module as collateral for the loan [41] and participation of government funds. A presidential decree was issued in 2001, establishing the official mechanism to finance rural electri­fication programs with PV. New initiatives are currently in place under the umbrella of the Under Ministry of Electricity and Alternative Energy. Among others, the programme “Electricity to Live with Dignity”, launched in 2007, which calls for 100% electricity coverage by the year 2030, including the use of PV in stand-alone and wind-hybrid systems.

Collateral benefits of PV programs in Bolivia include savings in traditional fuels in rural areas, development of a larger human resource base for project development and implementation, and the creation of local industries (BATEBOL, PHOCOS Latin America) that produce PV system components for the local market and export [42].

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