Solar electricity for the developing world

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

We held our first solar energy workshops in 1988 and soon after developed a Solar Electric Education Kit, which we used as a teaching tool at events in Illinois, Colorado, California, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ontario and Alberta. We provided workshops in Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, Spain, Germany, the U.K. and Hungary.

We also encouraged the installation of solar electricity in the developing world. Friends created a small fund to pay for the equipment. A national church official contacted us with an offer to have us install panels on a missionary’s island home in Honduras.

The goal was to involve both the men and women of the village in installing the system and demonstrate how we, as a husband and wife team, worked together on a project. The island missionary was uncomfortable with the approach desired by the national official, and the project was abandoned.

Later, we obtained a matching grant to install a relatively large system on university housing at the National University of Education in Peru, but the school failed to secure matching funds, so another project fell by the wayside.

We found success in a project in Jamaica initiated by Illinois Renewable Energy Association Board member Jeff Green. He was headed there on vacation, so transportation costs were covered. Our board supplied some of the equipment. The project is a success, as its purpose was to be a backup source of electricity for a local clinic in which medical students spent one week each providing services to people in the region. The backup power would enable medical students to have lights for work and refrigerate medicines in case grid service failed. Soon after completion, a hurricane disrupted grid service, and the solar electric system performed admirably. It made the evening news on a major Chicago television station.

Our second successful venture was installing a system in Guatemala this past year. A former resident of Guatemala, Jaime Flores, wanted to bring solar power to a clinic in his home country. Jeff Green traveled to Guatemala to assist in the project.

Some participants in our recent solar workshop are keen on continuing the effort in Guatemala, and others expressed an interest in creating a similar project in Africa.

Our international efforts are small, but important. It is estimated that 3 billion people in the developing world live without electricity and 2 billion live on $1 a day. The smoke from cooking with wood pollutes the air, while harvesting the wood depletes the forest. If dried animal dung is used as fuel, it is no longer available to enrich their gardens.

They carry water from a nearby supply for home use. Electric pumps powered by solar energy would lighten that burden. The presence of lights would allow children to study in the evening and mothers to sew clothing for family and village use.

Our international efforts will be included in the 12th Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, being held Aug. 17-18 at Ogle County Fairgrounds in Oregon, Ill.

Tax-deductible contributions to the international efforts are appreciated.

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

From the May 15-21, 2013, issue

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