PV in the developing world

Solar PV installation on building in Guatemala. (Photo by Jamie Flores)

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

This fall, Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) Board member Jeff Green spent four days in Guatemala helping Jamie Flores, an Illinois resident who was raised in Guatemala, install a PV system for a small rural hospital. Additional projects are planned, and Green is willing to be involved in them. In this case, a special fund was used to pay for Green’s travel, with the host covering the cost of the system and other expenses.

The IREA and, before that, the Solar Electric Education Network, have been interested in installing PV systems in parts of the developing world. In 2007, IREA sent Green to Jamaica to install a system for a rural hospital. He had already planned a Jamaican vacation, so he paid his own travel costs. Green, Aur Beck, also an IREA Board member, and IREA covered some of the equipment costs.

While the Jamaican hospital had a small amount of grid electrical service, it was not reliable. Hurricanes frequently knocked out service, as did the occasional illegal use of the power by those between the hospital and the utility.

The installation team (Jeff Green back left). (Photo by Jamie Flores)

The installation was featured on a Chicago television news station as the husband of our contact in Jamaica reported by telephone to her husband that the PV system was working following a hurricane. A secure power source for lighting and medicinal refrigerator was essential. Illinois medical students and doctors volunteered their time and talents for a week of service, and continuous electrical service facilitated their efforts.

When a former student invited us to speak at a technical university in Peru, we had a funding source willing to contribute to the installation of a PV system on a home that was being renovated for a faculty member. It was a matching grant that expected the university to supply one-quarter of the funds for the project, or about $2,500. The university did not deliver their share of the funds, and the president with whom we worked retired, so the project was never implemented.

Funding from the university was seen as a means to have some local investment in the project to ensure their commitment to it. We expected the installation to be an educational project for faculty and students, as the project was seen as a means to making solar education an integral part of their university offerings.

While solar energy for the developing world has not been a major focus for IREA, we do see it as an important component in the global energy picture. Installing PV around the world with an emphasis on creating the skills for locals to install such systems provides them with electricity and reduces their use of costly fossil fuel generators and pollution from them.

Challenges exist with such efforts. Funding for the system and travel is first. Getting systems into the countries being served and having local people capable of maintaining the systems are other concerns. Of course, the health and safety of participants is best addressed by working with trusted residents of those countries.

IREA expects to continue this element of service, which facilitates the interest of Illinoisans who wish to assist in bringing solar energy to other parts of the world. Of course, donations are essential to all our efforts.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the Dec. 19-25, 2012, issue

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