IEEE Western Puerto Rico (WPR) Section and EPICS in IEEE celebrate the installment of OASIS of Light. Pictured here are University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez (UPRM) professors, members of the WPR Section of IEEE, and other local community members who were instrumental in the implementation and installation of the first solar power station.

Back row: José Medina and wife (BorinTek, a solar engineering company in Jayuya, Puerto Rico), BorinTek employee, local woman from the community, Dennis Martinez (UPRM), and Dr. Erick Aponte-Bezares (UPRM and IEEE WPR). Front row: Dr. Marcel Castro-Sitiriche (UPRM and IEEE WPR), Elmer Seda (UPRM) and José Ariel Muñoz (UPRM).

IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional organization advancing technology for humanity, announced its Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) relief effort to deliver solar-powered charging stations to suffering areas of Puerto Rico. EPICS is the IEEE Foundation Priority Initiative that helps advance STEM learning by providing real-world learning experiences that attract young people to the engineering profession.

Nearly five months since Hurricane Maria hit, the U.S. territory is still devastated and struggling with basic needs. For example, about 25 percent of households (roughly 800 thousand Puerto Ricans) continue to live in darkness due to damaged power infrastructure.

To help address this need, the IEEE Western Puerto Rico (WPR) Section and EPICS in IEEE have supported the deployment of OASIS of Light – solar power charging stations. The first OASIS has been operating in Jayuya, located in the mountainous center region of Puerto Rico, since November 2017. The project was envisioned and designed by Drs. Erick Aponte-Bezares and Marcel Castro-Sitiriche, both University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez (UPRM) professors and members of the WPR Section of IEEE, who were motivated by Yiamar Rivera – a Jayuya native and University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez (UPRM) alumnus. Key support was provided by personnel from CoHemis (a research and educational center) and the Alzamora Agricultural Research Station, both at UPRM.

An OASIS has a self-standing metal structure, four PV panels, an inverter, charge controller, and batteries that store about 4 kWh of electric energy. There are electrical connections that enable the citizens to charge their cell phones, iPads, and other electronic devices. It also includes a small refrigerator, which provides safe storage for medications and other perishables. Each OASIS costs approximately $6,250 and the WPR Section has received all parts needed for the four new stations. The EPICS in IEEE project goal is to have four additional systems in place and functioning in rural areas of Puerto Rico (Orocovis, Aibonito, Jayuya, and Caguas) by the end of February.

EPICS is dedicated to empowering engineering students to work with local service organizations. Its purpose is to help conceptualize and implement solutions for communities. IEEE WPR Section members and EPICS in IEEE student member volunteers from UPRM will install the stations with help from the community. CoHemis will continue to provide key support before and during each deployment.

“After Hurricane Maria, CoHemis has been collaborating in social, technical, and environmental efforts that directly impact communities,” expressed Dr. Castro-Sitiriche, who is also CoHemis co-director. “Once an OASIS is installed, IEEE members will deliver short presentations to each community about renewable energy, energy-efficient equipment, conservation measures, and responsible energy behaviors.”

After the rural community is reconnected to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), the OASIS will remain in place as an educational tool and will offer minimal emergency power during future blackouts.

“The power grid in Puerto Rico is still unstable, so even those with power can’t rely on it,” says Dr. Efrain O’Neill-Carrillo, an EPICS in IEEE volunteer and WPR Section member who has been receiving the parts, managing the logistics of specifying components, and facilitating the final deployment of the four OASIS. “The WPR Section is grateful for this wonderful initiative facilitated by IEEE. EPICS in IEEE has enabled volunteers and students to make a difference in the lives of people from some of the most vulnerable communities in Puerto Rico,” Dr. O’Neill-Carrillo concluded.

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Ray Alcantara,
 Program Manager, EPICS in IEEE
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