Tuesday, January 31, 2012


(AOL Energy) - By Ray Larsen

The United Nations identified needed developments to eliminate the worst of world poverty in a program called the Millennium Development Goals. The key is to foster conditions for market-driven economic growth to create a safe infrastructure that includes the people most in need as empowered participants, not mere recipients of a handout. Success would eliminate current ineffectual foreign aid programs and uncoordinated charitable aid in favor of growth by-and for-the people.

In response, the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) established a pilot program which identified Reliable Electricity as one of the key enablers of economic growth, especially in areas of the globe containing nearly 2 billion people subsisting on incomes of less than $2US per day. The correlation of poverty with lack of electricity is obvious, but solutions that truly effect sustaining economic change are not. Fortunately, we have learned that a small amount of electricity can have a huge benefit at an affordable cost. Moreover, the technology already exists to create a sustainable business model that, in principle, can grow rapidly to reach millions of people.

Lighting alone in homes makes it possible to read, study, and pursue crafts and routine tasks - some of which enable income generation -as well as providing new safety from theft and violent crimes. Additionally, basic home power supply can enable communications by cell phone, radio, low power TV or web interconnectivity via computers. Simple scaling makes electrification of entire schools, community centers, churches and small businesses possible.

Now an independent IEEE non-profit known as the Community Solutions Initiative, CSI, which is working with the Sirona Cares Foundation, is on track to provide electricity to at least one million people in Haiti in the next 5 years. Starting this year, the program will also expand into many other countries of need.

The CSI SunBlazer Mobile Generator and Home Lighting Kit Products

The guiding design principle was to use technologies, some of which only recently have become mature and cost effective, that are available from multiple suppliers. The design is straightforward, but many details have to be optimized for both performance and low cost. Although units are currently operating successfully in communities in Haiti, work continues to refine the model.

Six 245W solar panels in 2 parallel banks of 3 produce 54V DC to drive a 48V "House Battery" bank of 4-12V 200Ah units in series. Regulation and discharge limiting are controlled by a Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) solar cell charger controller. Discharge limiting to 50% is essential to preserving battery life of the deep cycle sealed lead-acid batteries used in both the House and Home Kit batteries. The House bank can absorb a full day's solar production so in the absence of sun it is still able to charge customer loads.

The station chassis carries 40 customer Home Kits consisting of a 12V 18Ah portable battery pack with an added small Low Voltage Discharge (LVD) limiter circuit board to cut off at 50% drain. Each home pack is accompanied by a prefabricated lighting kit of 2-4W LED white globes and chain-pull wall or ceiling mount sockets with 15 ft (5m) of interconnect wiring from the power supply and between units. The battery pack is a converted commercial automobile jump-start kit with jumper cables and internal trickle charger removed and a second automobile cigarette lighter outlet added for auxiliary loads such as a 12V cell phone charger, small radio or TV, laptop charger etc. With the 50% limiter a customer has 108Wh per day capacity before cutoff. Additional pack conveniences are a push-button state-of-charge meter, plus a flashlight for use when walking at night. The rear access panel is modified with tamper-resistant screws and instructions in 3 languages. The pack will run a single 4W LED room light for 31 hours, 2 bulbs for 14 hours, etc.

The third critical component is a bank of 20 intelligent 48V to 12V fast 3-stage sub-chargers to charge the 40 Home Kit supplies in 2 banks of 20 every day if needed. The solar panel array has a peak capacity to produce full charging of all loads on the lowest seasonal average daily production in Haiti.

Finally, an AC converter / regulator is included to allow connection of an external source such as a wind turbine, emergency diesel generator or, if one should ever become available, a grid connection of 220-240V AC. An auxiliary source can be invaluable in emergency service in critical applications such as a clinic, operating room, school, computer lab or emergency communications system.

Local Entrepreneur Business Model

IEEE's local partner, the Sirona Cares Foundation, developed the entrepreneur teams to take ownership of the first 6 units and has customers lined up for the next 9 units and beyond. Entrepreneurs were found through the organization's connections with church communities that support orphanages and schools and with Jatropha farming cooperatives for bio-fuel production.

Owners contract to receive an initial station, conduct a formal market survey and secure customers who agree to lease a Home Kit for a monthly charge of $6.50 US, the current cost of candles and kerosene. The station operators collect the fees and make a fixed monthly lease payment to Sirona-Haiti, a new for-profit overseeing all operations and set up for future manufacturing in Haiti. The difference is their profit for running the business. The only upfront cost is a small security deposit. The initial 15 units are seed-funded by IEEE entities and CSI volunteer work. Sirona-Haiti must now raise major capital to grow the business at a rapid rate through long term loans or investment. They are off to a good start with a USAID grant for bridge funding to equip a factory, as well as to build, deploy and service the next SunBlazer units. The approximate construction cost of a 40-kit unit in the US is $15,000, which will be reduced considerably in high volume production. The next 9 trailers will be shipped empty and have the components installed in Haiti; all further units will be completely procured and assembled in Haiti. Due to the conservative design, the next units will all be equipped with double the number of home kits, 80 per trailer, to service an estimated 480 people per generator.

CSI and Sirona have worked closely with the Haitian government energy authorities, most prominently the new Secretary of Energy, and have received their full support for the SunBlazer program as synergistic with their new national policy stressing rural energy independence and stimulating economic development.

In 2012 and beyond IEEE and CSI plan to expand the Haiti model to new initiatives in Africa and India, as well as continuing to support and learn from the ground-breaking work of Sirona-Haiti.

Ray Larsen is former Head of the Electronics Department of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Stanford University, where he currently serves as Project Manager for the Instrumentation and Controls Directorate. His career at SLAC includes accelerator beam instrumentation, high speed pulse instrumentation, high level RF power systems, modular instrumentation standards development for physics, and design and project management of very large scale accelerator and detector instrumentation, control and RF power systems.

Besides forty years of service to SLAC in accelerator and particle detector instrumentation systems and standards, Ray earlier worked in defense research in Canada and from 1988-95 was cofounder, President and CEO of Analytek Ltd., a Silicon Valley instrumentation company. He is a Life Fellow of the IEEE, Past President of the IEEE Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society (NPSS), and Founder and Co-Chair of the IEEE Community Solutions Initiative (CSI) currently managing the Haiti SunBlazer project. He developed the original conceptual design of the Haiti technical and business models and currently oversees construction of the pilot program for Sirona Cares, participating in technical training and deployment of the first six kW-scale generators established in June 2011 as rural businesses in Haiti.

Ray holds Bachelor's and Master's of Applied Science degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of British Columbia and the Degree of Professional Engineer in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University. His IEEE Fellow award was for advances in gigahertz sampling rate analog integrated circuits and systems, and in 2011 he was awarded the prestigious NPSS Merit Award for a career of innovation and service to the Society.

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