Seizing Solar Power

One Latin American woman’s quest to harness the power of the southern sun.

Across Latin America the impact of poverty and climate change is bringing greater stress to rural communities.

In arid northern Argentina, people have only one source of fuel – wood. It is often scrawny bushes that are increasingly hard to find.

But the region also has a huge untapped resource – solar radiation – and Virginia Bauso’s mission is to harness its potential and promote solar energy as the main power source for entire villages: from kitchens and ovens to heating, lighting, hot water and even a public phone.

She roams the desert spreading innovative technology, including a “kiosk” she invented that cooks food using the sun’s rays. The community of Misa Rumi is now almost 100 percent solar-functional. Another village recently built a solar quinoa dryer, creating new opportunities for employment.

As deforestation and desertification continue to ravage Argentina and beyond, Bauso’s vision could play a major role in charting a sustainable path to energy independence.

Seizing Solar Power explores how solar energy improves rural life on multiple levels by documenting its impact – in the fields of agriculture, education, health and business, as well as power – and contrasting this with isolated communities that are yet to adopt Bauso’s groundbreaking tools.

RELATED: In Pictures: Seizing solar power in Argentina


By Nicolas Mu and Frederick Bernas

Imagination is what you need to survive in this world.

It is a world where the sun shines fiercely yet the air is cold. Where dozens of families, hundreds of kilometres from the nearest town, without regular transport, share a single telephone.

It is a world of mud-brick houses built to withstand brutal sandstorms. Where llama hides are as valuable as the animal meat that sustains a healthy diet, balanced with vegetables grown in hot huts in a controlled microclimate. Otherwise, nothing could grow there.

This is how, in extreme regions like north Argentina, imagination enables people to survive.

Adversity and imagination go together and these people are hardened by living in adversity. The way these communities work can only be fully explained by spending time with them but it is still difficult to understand how people can opt for this kind of lifestyle in the 21st century.

Virginia Bauso constantly draws upon her imagination in seeking to change the reality of communities who receive her like the daily sunrise. Very few people walk that walk. But Virginia goes all the way up to above 4,000 metres – crossing rivers, valleys and plateaus – with a message of revolution. She lives by her creed.

That is what we saw during our first voyage to these remote people in 2012. Two years later, we returned to find Virginia even more determined, immersed in her austere lifestyle and constantly prioritising her vocation to change the future. She does not care about amenities we take for granted to reach something higher than the mountain peaks she climbs to spread quiet change.

Our two return flights between Buenos Aires and Jujuy generated more pollution than any inhabitant of the Puna desert creates during their entire life. Does saving a couple of trees in a barren landscape make any sense? Did our work have any purpose? Is it really an example for the world, or just a crazy idea by a group of filmmakers who naively believe we might make a difference?

We discussed all these issues as we followed Virginia for two weeks, covering great distances and acquiring a deep sense of her constant companion – isolation.

In the cosmopolitan centers of Europe and America, going green is the new black. Preaching from an eco-bible about carbon footprints and renewable energy is in fashion and people often choose to leave the urban wilderness to feel more in touch with nature.

At the same time, rural communities are slowly abandoning their traditions for our modern way of life. Both lifestyles involve sacrifice and come with pros and cons.

One of our goals in this film is to give people a grass-roots perspective on environmental issues, examining the other side of fashionable eco-trends and investigating how technology can change life in places so far off the beaten path that they do not appear on Google Maps.

Virginia represents a link between the two worlds of modernity and antiquity. We filmmakers were in the middle, witnessing a nascent message of revolution embodied in her work.

Today’s rebels do not wear leather, go on stage with microphones and guitars, or flash weapons in order to be heard. They are active professionals who go out of their way to achieve the impossible.

Being able to document this, even for just a short time, makes you feel that you might be part of the change – a change that leads to energy independence. The concept that a whole village can abandon gas or petrol and run on alternative energy is Virginia’s revolution.

This is another example of how imagination can bring seemingly outlandish ideas to reality.

For us, this is not just a film to entertain or inform. We witnessed someone who has committed herself to changing the world – her world – with nothing more and nothing less than the power of the sun.