FAO / Bart van Campen and Bert van der Plas, Honduras

I knew Bart van Campen via YES-DC, a Dutch network of young people interested in energy issues in developing countries. In 1997, he went to Honduras to work for the FAO. I supported him by answering his questions, sending technical books, and by selling a complete charger and charge indicators. In 2001, his successor Bert van der Plas sent me the report printed below and in 2003, he sent me some more pictures and reports.

Firefly projects in Honduras

One of FAO’s field projects on rural development (PROLESUR) has introduced two firefly demonstration projects in its project area (Lempira - a department in the northwest of Honduras along the border with El Salvador) as part of its strategy to make multiple use of water. The first project was implemented in Quelepa in 1998 and the second one was implemented in Cacahuatal one year later. Experiences with these projects have been valuable and FAO has the intention to develop this technology in Honduras.

Firefly project in Quelepa

The site is centrally located in Quelepa. This firefly project was integrated in an irrigation system (8 manzanas, 1 manzana = 0.697 ha), which was implemented at the same time. The whole system is owned by various family members and was partly financed by them and the FAO field project. Main costs of the project were related to the irrigation system (75,000 lempiras or lps, in 2001: ca. 15.6 lps/US$). The required changes of the irrigation system and the additional firefly system costs were 10,000 lps.. The turbine was locally made in a workshop close to the site (5,000 lps.).

Organizational aspects formed an imported part of the project and consisted of the organization of the legal part (use of the water source, watershed management, etc.), organization and training for the implementation of the civil works, organization and training about use, management and maintenance of the system and about the use of the water (irrigation and generation of energy).

The penstock is designed for a water flow of 5 l./s. and has a netto head of 12 meters; more than enough to provide energy to charge batteries with the firefly system.

The hydroelectric plant provided electricity for the four families who partly owned the plant and the service of charging batteries was also sold to families around Quelepa who paid 12 Lps. for this service. The users use the electricity mainly for lighting purposes (some also have a radio/TV).


Main problem was the protection of the alternator against incoming water. This was solved by adjusting the seal and by removing the ventilator, as it seemed that this caused the problem.

Another difficulty was to obtain all the required electronic components for the control system. Using alternative components with the same function solved this. The same difficulty occurred with the charge indicators of the batteries.

The installation in the houses seemed of poor quality as quite some families reported burned fuses and low lifespan of the CFL.

A more serious problem was encountered in the water intake area. It was noted that this area filled rapidly with sediment due to lacking watershed management. A plan for watershed management was implemented to improve the situation.

The Quelepa site.

Quelepa charger seen from below

Firefly project in Cacahuatal
After the first experiences with the firefly system a second project was implemented in the same department in Cacahuatal (about 4 km from the border with El Salvador). This project was also implemented in an irrigation system and the main difference with the first project is that the community owns this project. The community has 19 families and all except one participate in the project .

A community association was formed with the following responsibilities:

  • Organizing and operation of the plant
  • Collecting charging fee for the batteries
  • Operation and maintenance
  • Repairing

To join the association one had to contribute to the implementation of the civil works. The charging fee is 5 lps for associates and 12 lps for non-associates. Few outsiders come to Cacahuatal to charge their batteries, as this village is quite isolated. The revenues of the charging service are put in a maintenance fund.

The system is designed for a netto head of 31 meters and a flow of 4 l/s; more than enough to charge batteries with the firefly system. The system provides enough power to charge 2 batteries a day. The overall costs of the project were 55,000 lps from which the community contributed 35%.

The Cacahuata area: Quite steep and probably quite wet, considering the lush vegetation.


Cacahuatal charger

The charger from below


A standard lighting package was introduced with the project containing a Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) of 8 W and a light bulb of 15 W. All the users use the same battery (80 Ah). In the meantime most of the users have amplified their lighting system (more CFL’s).

The users are satisfied with the system. Partly because of the better quality of light and partly because of financial reasons; before the project the average annual energy expenses (just for lighting purposes) were 778 lps. and currently they pay 90 lps./year.


Problems were more or less of the same nature as in Quelepa.

In Cacahuatal there were some problems with the shaft which connected the turbine with the alternator, which were locally repaired.

The operator at the charger. Batteries are placed on a soft bench, to avoid that a battery case could be punctured by sharp stone.
Future plans

The firefly system is currently the most economic option to gain access to electricity in isolated villages in Honduras (if a water source is nearby). Value added can be gained if the same water source can be used for more applications (irrigation, driving mills etc.). One of the observed impacts is at the level of management of natural resources. In Honduras slash and burn practices are still common. Implementation of a hydro-project should go together with watershed management. One of the changes observed had to do with the increasing awareness of the users of the importance of watershed management. The introduction of these two projects has gained valuable experiences and FAO plans to further develop this technology in Honduras.

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