On Aug. 19, Oregon Institute of Technology students will join their professor, Dr. Slobodan Petrovic, in Tanzania, where they will install solar energy systems for schools and hospitals. The trip is part of Oregon Tech's BS in Renewable Energy Engineering (BSREE) degree program, the only ABET-accredited energy engineering program in North America.
After volunteering in Tanzania in 2009, Dr. Petrovic teamed up with students from Oregon Tech's Department of Electrical Engineering & Renewable Energy (EERE) in Portland to help build a sustainable new model for changing the energy outlook in Africa, and provide hands-on experience in the design and installation of renewable energy technology.
"What I always say is that we give these people the gift of light and the gift of communication," Dr. Petrovic says.
Each year since 2010, another batch of 10 students travels to Tanzania to continue Oregon Tech's work providing energy for schools, hospitals and orphanages. This year the students will also take eight laptops allowing villages access to the internet as connections allow.
For the first time this trip, the group will revisit past sites to install equipment invented by last year's seniors that allow monitoring of the solar systems online. The data will allow Petrovic to ensure the installations stay working.
The humanitarian work also is made possible by donations from Hillsboro-based SolarWorld. SolarWorld has donated 30 panels to the program, and is invested in continuing to help it grow.
"This is about more than simply installing solar panels; it's about facilitating access to education, communications, medical services and clean, safe drinking water," says Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America.
The initial inspiration for the program came about during Dr. Petrovic's 2009 trip to Tanzania, when a terrible accident changed his perspective forever. "There was a girl in the dormitory in one of the schools using a candle hidden under her blanket so she could read," Dr. Petrovic says. "She fell asleep, and her blanket caught fire. Thirteen girls died. I want to prevent these tragedies."
In addition to installing solar panels, this year Petrovic and his students will build a large solar water pumping project to provide drinking water for a village of 3,000 people on Lake Nyasa.