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Sumaq Wasi Housing: Beating the Cold

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Sumaq Wasi Housing: Beating the Cold

  • By
    Heloisa Schmidt
    Heloisa Schmidt, Manager, Corporate Sustainability and
    portrait of Mellissa Case
    Mellissa Case, Manager of Sustainability, Bechtel Mining and Metals
  • 22 September 2023
     4 Min Read

In the first of a three part series, addresses a decades-long issue in Peru

Bechtel employees Heloisa Schmidt, manager, Corporate Sustainability, and Mellissa Case, sustainable development manager, Mining and Metals, reflect on their recent visit to Peru. In this three-part series, they share their on-the-ground experiences talking to Bechtel colleagues, partners, and community members. was created in 2019 to deliver sustainable and scalable projects with impact infrastructure at the core of building community wellbeing. In Peru, is supporting the Peruvian government in addressing a long-standing climate and health crisis affecting thousands of indigenous Peruvians living in the remote Andean mountains. The innovative partnership is helping harvest heat to protect households by building climate-resilient housing.  Heloisa and Mellissa went to Peru to see the progress for themselves.

High in the Peruvian Andes, farmers tend to their flocks of llama and alpacas and go about their daily lives as they have done for hundreds of years. At an elevation of more than 4,500 metres above sea level, women in colorful traditional attire dot the sparse landscape, spinning wool while watching their flock. Men in equally colorful attire can also be seen high on the ridges herding animals to a new pasture. They live in mud adobe-style houses, an ancient building style that uses earth and organic binding material often resourced from nearby clay deposits.

In this idyllic scene, there is a hidden danger that contributes to hundreds of respiratory illnesses and related fatalities each year, especially among children, the elderly, and livestock. The locals call it ‘Heladas,’ or extreme frost. 

While Peru is known for having a pleasant climate in most regions, this isn’t the case year-round. In the frost season, waves of Heladas are common. In 2010, the temperature dropped below -20 Celsius in the Southern Andes, causing hundreds of deaths from pneumonia, mostly among children. In 2017, more than 180,000 alpacas in the Ayacucho region succumbed to the frost, which severely impacted food supplies in the communities, who rely on the animals for sustenance.

For decades, indigenous communities in Peru have been dealing with the consequences of Heladas. Now, climate change is exacerbating these impacts.  The government of Peru is committed to finding a sustainable and scalable solution for more than 300,000 Peruvians living in these harsh conditions., together with the government and communities, the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP), and Cambridge Research and Technology, formed an innovative partnership to support the Ministry of Housing and its Sumaq Wasi housing program to address the issue.

During our project visit to Peru, we took the opportunity to learn first-hand more about the Sumaq Wasi houses, the thermal challenges, the partnership that has been built, and the value it is bringing to these remote villages.

Our journey started in Lima. This bustling city and capital of Peru is a mix of modern infrastructure coexisting with ancient Incan and Spanish architecture. City streets and buildings intersect with Huacas or Wak’as, signalling pre-Inca and early Inca civilizations. As we drive through the gates of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP), we are again surrounded by ancient architecture. The campus is built on part of the Maranga complex, a pre-Columbian site that functioned from 250 AD to 1532 AD. Now an archeological site, Maranga encompasses more than 14 pyramids, 100 small adobe buildings, burial sites, and Huacas. To the south of the university is Los Caminos, a 467-metre fragment of the Inca Trail. PUCP was founded in 1917 and is the oldest private institution of higher learning in the country. In addition to being the custodian of some of Lima’s most significant historical infrastructure, it is also renowned for innovation and technology in sustainability, and educating high- performing leaders, including our host, Bechtel Region President, Latin America, Carlos Alarco, who graduated from the university with a mechanical engineering degree.

PUCP is also the location of the pilot “CAT thermal system,” designed for the Sumaq Wasi housing program and prototype. Carlos became a key influencer in the formation of the CAT-Sumaq Wasi partnership in 2019 when he learned about the Ministry of Housing’s plans to build 20,000 new houses – Sumaq Wasi - in areas affected by frost in the regions of Cusco, Puno, Apurímac, and the Sierra de Arequipa. Intrigued by the program, Carlos approached the Ministry and forged an agreement to work together with and the university. 

Jorge Soria, the PUCP group researcher and coordinator of the project, explained that the construction of the first prototype at the university began in 2020 and included the thermal system and two typical houses, one made of adobe and the other made of noble material. The Solar Collector-Accumulator-Transfer (CAT) initiative aims to generate a difference of at least 20°C between the exterior and interior of homes in the high Andean regions, using cost-effective, sustainable, and easy-to-build technologies to improve the quality of life of the local population. accepted the challenge and started its on-the-ground work—building partnerships, innovating solutions, and committing to lasting positive impact for families in the Andean region.

For Augusto Cauti, executive director of the CAT-PUCP Project, the development of the CAT system shows that the public sector, the private sector, academia, and the population itself can successfully work together to improve the quality of life of the most vulnerable. 

“We can successfully work together

to improve the quality of life of the most vulnerable.”

– Augusto Cauti, Executive Director, CAT-PUCP Project

“In this project, the communities themselves work with the executing units of the National Rural Housing Program (PNVR), so we have all the parties working and achieving tangible results,” he says.

This innovative heating model has become a reality thanks to an inter-institutional collaboration agreement between the Ministry of Housing, Construction and Sanitation (MVCS), the PUCP, the National Training Service for the Construction Industry (Sencico), and various private institutions, including Bechtel, and experts from Cambridge Research and Technology, Price Waterhouse Cooper, Ferreycorp, FLSmidth, among others. The goal of the partnership is to support the deployment and scaling of the CAT system to 60,000 homes.

Follow our journey to the Peruvian highlands.

Join us for Part 2 of this blog series, when we will go deeper into the innovations and work necessary to heat the homes of indigenous families across the Andean region.

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