Nicaragua: Electricity empowers rural communities

Nicaraguan woman in her small business
Maribel Úbeda, a beneficiary of the micro-hydropower plant in Wanawás, Nicaragua. Thanks to energy from the plant, she started a small business selling beef, homemade sorbets and soft drinks. (Photo: Walter Lacayo/UNDP Nicaragua)

Maribel Ubeda’s is among the 4,400 families from eight rural communities in Nicaragua who gained access to electricity when a new 300 kilowatt micro-hydropower plants was inaugurated by local authorities in her village.

“When they first told us about this project, people in my community didn’t believe it would become a reality because we were too far from Waslala [the closest village]…Now we have energy all day,” says Maribel.


  • The overall portfolio of UNDP energy-related projects over the last two decades is over US $4 billion, including more than 2,500 off-grid energy projects.
  • About 10 million people, mostly rural poor, have gained access to modern energy services through UNDP-supported projects over the past decade.
  • UNDP supports more than 65 developing countries to join the initiative and work toward achieving its objectives.

Ten years ago less than half of all Nicaraguans had access to electricity, due to the high maintenance and operational costs of power plants relying on fossil fuels, and the difficulty of connecting rural areas to the national grid.

In response, the Government of Nicaragua joined forces with UNDP in developing an initiative that would use the country’s abundant natural resources, and introduce renewable hydropower in remote areas.

Building on a US $3.5 million grant from the Global Environment Facility, and with additional funding from UNDP and the Swiss and Norwegian Governments, the project is working to electrify rural communities and combat poverty while contributing to Nicaragua’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The project provides communities with a clean, sustainable source of energy, which in turn gives people new opportunities to learn and to generate income for their families. In 2012, the project had leveraged $ 20 million in co-financing for up to 28 microturbines.

The initiative also spurred new legislation for the promotion of renewable energy and influenced the design of fiscal incentives in rural electrification planning. Training programs were developed with two national universities to strengthen the capacities of engineering students in renewable energy.

Today around 70 percent of the population has access to electricity, including 48,000 people in rural communities. Micro enterprises are emerging as local community members, including women, gain access to electricity and new business opportunities.

Maribel Ubeda says that her three children with ages ranging from 13 to 15 will benefit the most from this project because they now have access to the internet.

“They will learn, play and discover the world beyond our community thanks to the arrival of electricity,” she says.

Other women like Maribel have been able to develop their micro enterprises and increase the income for them and their families.

Today, the project has laid the foundation for additional work, and the Government has set targets to reach 90 percent of the population with electricity and to shift the current dependence on fossil fuels by 90 percent, both by 2017.

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