Dios del Sol (God of the Sun)

Using faith-based institutions in Puerto Rico to bring solar power to tens of thousands of people by 2019.

Photo of J.I. Cruz
11 10

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Eligibility: Are you employed by T-Mobile or related to an employee of T-Mobile?

  • No

Eligibility: Date of Birth

11/07/1996

Where are you located:

Bayamón: Puerto Rico (00959)

Website or social media url(s) (optional):

Twitter: @joseisraelcruz

Date Started

05/31/2018

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Idea (hoping to get started in the future)

1. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project? NOTE: All applications must include a 1 minute video that answers: “I am stepping up to make change because..."

About a year ago, I was featured in an episode of Manoush Zomorodi's NPR podcast, "Note to Self", as a test subject for Manoush's "Bored and Brilliant" challenge. This challenge dared you to drop your phone use, allow yourself to be bored for once, and use that time to sit with yourself and discover your inner brilliance.

At the conclusion of the challenge, my boredom did give me a shock of brilliance-- an idea, in fact: the "evangelization" of solar energy in Puerto Rico. This idea was popular among my friends, and Manoush herself thought it was pretty cool, too. Nevertheless, life got the better of me, and I never acted on it.

The aftermath of Hurricane María put things into perspective, though. After seeing the turmoil in which Puerto Rico has been left, I've grown inspired to turn my idea into action. This page, right here, is that first step.

Hope you like it, Manoush!

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Puerto Rico has an energy crisis.

The island suffers from a decaying energy grid that gets its energy from the dirtiest fossil fuels-- and those lucky enough to have power are stuck with an old, fragile, and dirty supply.

On the other hand, renewable energy is a solution no individual can afford. Fixed costs and financing remain too high a barrier for many Puerto Ricans, so they stick to what they know: the same old system.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

If an old, centralized model of energy distribution is the problem. A new, decentralized model is the solution. That's where we come in.

Dios del Sol is a community-led initiative that will strategically partner with churches, volunteers and Puerto Rican solar energy associations to help churches finance, transition to, and manage solar microgrids.

Why microgrids? Microgrids are electrical networks that feed the greater grid but can also operate on their own. And in Puerto Rico, no community institution is more apt to assume the challenge of microgrids than churches.

Why? Churches have a very strong influence on their local communities, so what they do matters to national trends; many churches operate their finances similarly to cooperatives, so they have the capacity to finance solar installations; churches often own the most land or have the largest building in the neighborhood, so they would produce a lot of energy; churches use very little power themselves, so they will have a surplus of energy they can feed back into the grid.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

Dios del Sol will create a repository of interested volunteers and institutions. When we see a partnership that works, we convene meetings between religious leaders, local volunteers, and solar panel suppliers to assess the potential a church has for serving as a microgrid. Once an action plan has been agreed to, the plan is shared with church members and its governing body. Once full community buy-in is confirmed, the building begins!

Initial stages will be focused on working with only a few churches to build trust and show proofs of concept. Dios del Sol will then use these success stories to evangelize the good news through the church's sister churches (churches that belong to the same denomination) and neighbor churches.

The process is a win-win. Solar panel providers get new clients; churches get ownership of their energy, and citizens get a cleaner, decentralized grid.

5. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

There are no current projects such as this one in Puerto Rico. Moreover, the few microgrid initiatives that currently exist in the island are isolated and have no strategic method of expansion. Partnering with a community institution as ubiquitous and trusted as churches will allow the success of microgrids to reach the eyes and ears of many people really quickly. The practice could become viral. Moreover, these grids will be community-owned, rather than the source of a one-time grant or a post-disaster donation, so they are more sustainable and replicable in the long run.

6. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

When I had this idea last year, I knew such a good idea must have been thought of before. There's no way such a great idea hasn't gone untested! Luckily, I was able to find existing proofs of concept.

Interfaith Power & Light (IPL) currently uses a similar model to help faith-based institutions in 40 U.S. states transition to solar energy. They've now impacted over 20,000 congregations and 6.5 million people.

Dios del Sol would follow a similar model. We will assess its effectiveness by measuring the number of partnerships, the kilowatt-hours of energy created, the number of clients receiving that energy, and the total proportion of energy supplied to the grid by the model.

7. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

Currently, we're in stage one: building a database of partners, policymakers, community leaders and volunteers.
Stage two entails finding the very first volunteer churches, solar energy providers, and financial institutions who are willing to be the pioneers (AKA the proofs of concept). This stage will likely take the rest of 2018.
Stage three is all about scaling. We will pursue 501(c)(3) status and begin spreading the gospel of renewable energy by using our success stories to invite entire denominations and regions of churches to join the movement.

Dios del Sol's ultimate goal is to get 500 churches to transition to solar energy by 2020.

8. Future Support: What are the resources needed to make your vision a reality?

We need funding!

The economic and environmental benefits of this initiative, once taken to scale, will be worth several millions of dollars in savings a year. All we need is an initial investment to ensure we can put our full time and effort into the fulfillment of this mission.

Ideally, for the beginning, we would need enough funding to sustain one full-time employee and two part-time interns who will help kickstart the process.

9. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Mentors/advisors

10. Ripple Effect: Please share some ideas of how you could partner with other changemakers or involve other young people as leaders in making a difference.

There is a plethora of friends in Puerto Rico who are willing to support this initiative and find the person-power needed to get this done. Existing organizations, such as CenadoresPR, Mentes Puertorriqueñas en Acción (MAP), ConPRmetidos, the Foundation for Puerto Rico, among others. This initiative will tap into their networks, their volunteer bases, and their wisdom to ensure the entire island knows of this initiative.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?

  • Hispanic, Latino/a, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian) (7)
  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian, etc) (8)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?

  • Communities of color

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Word of mouth

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka or T-Mobile, who was it?

Global Citizen Year

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Photo of Vanessa Medina
Team

Great idea! I am from Puerto Rico, living in L.A. & would love to help in any way I can :) E mail me to; oceanpark100@yahoo.com. -Vanessa Medina (Medina Pi Art) 'Pa 'lante boricua!!!!

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