Program seeks to provide solar power to Haitian communities
A recent Yale graduate and a Yale professor have teamed up to address energy challenges in the developing world. They have established TMD Solar Outreach, a program that aims to provide solar energy to communities in Haiti, where many people can access electricity for only a few hours each day.
Stephen Akwei Maclean ’15 met André D. Taylor, an associate professor of chemical and environmental engineering, when Maclean was working on his senior project in the Transformative Materials and Devices (TMD) Lab, where Taylor is the principal investigator. Taylor’s work at the lab focuses on developing energy conversion storage devices, including electric catalysts for fuel cells, nanostructure materials for batteries, and solar cell technology. Taylor and Maclean started TMD Solar Outreach to bring this technology, much of which is far from widespread implementation, to communities where it can immediately raise the standard of living.
“Dr. Taylor told me he really wanted to work in Haiti and use solar cell technology to help with the situation there,” said Maclean, who is from Ghana and majored in chemical engineering at Yale. “I really want to work in developing countries, and working in Haiti gives me an opportunity to do just that.”
Taylor’s mother spent 25 years performing volunteer work in Haiti. He has traveled to the impoverished nation and seen firsthand how the lack of a reliable power grid complicates people’s daily lives.
“In Haiti one of the major problems, coupled with education, is: How do you get power?” says Taylor. “How do you get energy for schools? If you want to use tablet PCs, how do you power those?”
Many developing countries are moving forward by “leapfrogging” earlier forms of technological infrastructure, Taylor says. For example, China and India have advanced mobile phone networks, he says, necessitated by the fact that they never had the infrastructure for wired telephone communications. Taylor and Maclean believe the same can be true for energy in Haiti.
The program would distribute solar energy through integrated energy centers — solar-powered booths located at central and well-trafficked locations, such as community centers, hospitals, or market areas. Equipped with solar panels, the booths would provide community members various energy services, including the ability to rent rechargeable batteries and charge mobile phones. The energy centers could also provide solar-generated electricity to replace the dangerous kerosene lamps that many Haitians rely on to light their homes.
Students at Yale and in Haiti would play key roles in launching the program, Taylor says. Local students and community members would help install and maintain the energy centers, which could be sustainably funded by selling the electricity they generate. Meanwhile, a team of seven students is working on TMD Solar Outreach through Project Bright, a campus group dedicated to raising awareness about solar energy, Taylor says.
Maclean, currently a postgraduate associate at the TMD Lab, gained experience working with students on energy issues as a founding director of Yale Young African Scholars (YYAS), a program that equips students in Africa with the skills to serve their communities. He was part of a team that traveled to Ghana and Ethiopia during YYAS’s inaugural year. In Ghana, he taught courses on electricity and on using renewable energy. He calls his work with YYAS “one of the most worthwhile things I have done at Yale.”
Taylor and Maclean are seeking funding for a research trip to Haiti this fall with the Project Bright students to conduct a feasibility study at potential sites, such as Port-de-Paix, a city of more than 400,000 residents. They would assess what kind of solar panel structures would be necessary, and how they would be transported and installed.
“We have a lot of momentum, we have a lot of interest, but we need an extra kick to get this going,” says Taylor.
Once the program is established in Haiti, Taylor and Maclean hope to extend it to other parts of the developing world.