SIPA Students Light the World with Solar Energy
A workshop team from SIPA is working to help bring the magic of solar lighting to communities that are cut off from the rest of the world.
One of those places is Indonesia, which is having trouble piping electricity to residents because of rugged topography or a shortage of money. So the government is seeking alternatives: off-grid solutions to providing lighting in remote and sparsely populated areas.
In the spring of 2011, the team of six students partnered with Kopernik, an online nonprofit marketplace working to share life-altering technology with the developing world. Kopernik is implementing a solar lantern project in three villages in Borneo.
Several months after the distribution of Firefly solar lanterns to residents in these villages, SIPA students Paul Gubbins, Kevin Hong, Neha Kumar, Karina Nagin, Alicia Ng, and Erisha Suwal visited. Their mission: to assess the impact of the lanterns and make recommendations for moving forward.
“Even after all the research and preparation my team did for our workshop, I didn’t fully understand the impact solar lanterns could have until I was standing in a remote fishing village at night,” says Karina Nagin (MPA ’11).
“The only source of light I had was the solar lantern I was there to evaluate. That one moment of complete darkness taught me more than a semester of research.”
The team found villagers who appreciated the advantages of solar over kerosene: health, safety, portability, etc. But the biggest advantage residents enjoyed was the money they saved. The team calculated that homes with solar lanterns cut their monthly expenses by 40 percent.
In its final report, the group also identified a few challenges – mainly issues of durability and maintenance of the lanterns. Therefore, sustainability is a heavy factor in the team’s recommendations to Kopernik.
“We were impressed by Kopernik’s support to evaluate the impact of their project as rigorously as possible in spite of limited resources and other logistical challenges,” said Kevin Hong (MIA ’11).
As Kopernik proceeds with its plans to bring affordable illumination to the developing world, the organization is documenting its progress in a blog. The blog’s is built on the foundation of data and observations from SIPA’s Workshop in Development Practice team.
“Having the opportunity to participate in an EPD workshop was a deciding factor for me coming to SIPA,” said Nagin. “The chance to see first-hand the impacts and complexities of a solar lantern project in a village was amazing.”
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