Ohio State University – Powering an Orphanage with Solar Energy

Montaña de Luz (MdL) is a home to children affected by HIV/AIDS in rural Honduras. One in 100 people in Honduras are living with HIV, half of which are teenagers. The mission of MdL is to provide refuge, hope, and empowerment to youth who have lost their parents or require care that is inaccessible in their homes. 

Unfortunately, electricity in rural Honduras is incredibly expensive and unreliable. Frequent power outages disrupt daily activities, resulting in significant cost increases to food and medicine spoilage. These outages disturb the lives of the children and employees of MdL by disabling the water distribution systems, light, and critical kitchen appliances. 

At Ohio State University (OSU), engineering students are committed to making a positive impact on the word and strive to become empathetic, conscientious engineers. With an EPICS in IEEE grant of $10,000, OSU engineering students spent a semester focusing on a solar energy solution for MdL. 

The semester culminated in a mission trip to Honduras with 15 students and 2 technical advisors over spring break. During the journey, the team successfully installed a 1250W solar generator to power appliances in the orphanage. The objective was not only to reduce their electricity costs, but also to keep essential components running throughout power outages. This solution will result in years of cost savings for the organization, improve its financial sustainability, and ultimately free up funds to be allocated for medical needs. 

Another goal was geared towards education and outreach within the MdL community. The team organized and lead workshops where residents of the orphanage learned about technology, ranging from creating their own nightlights to building a solar-powered flashlight. During the trip, the team also successfully repaired a 400W wind turbine generator, which powered the outside lighting fixtures of the orphanage. 

The team designed and implemented the entire project, learning real-life engineering skills, including budgeting, managing time constraints, and communicating with people in foreign languages. 

Efforts to continue training MdL community members are underway. They are in close contact with the OSU engineering department, and the team is panned a solar maintenance an education workshop that began in Spring 2018 to provide additional training on solar power principles, maintenance, and repairs to ensure the longevity and self-sufficiency of their program.

Author: Michele Currenti

Michele is a creative content intern in Educational Activities at IEEE. She is currently pursing her masters in Voice & Opera at the University of Maryland, College Park. She also completed a Bachelor of Science in Brain & Cognitive Science at the University of Rochester and a Bachelor of Music at the Eastman School of Music. She is interested in finding the various intersections of science and the arts to better humanity.