Powering and empowering a university with solar energy

April 15, 2019
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Powering and empowering a university with solar energy

A large computer lab filled with quality computers and not one of them has been used in nearly five years. That is the reality at Thamar University in Yemen where classes are in session, but are most often held in the dark.

Since 2014, there has been a huge electricity shortage due to the ongoing political conflict in the country. This has left the computer lab entirely without power and causes frequent blackouts throughout the campus and the city of Dhamar.

photo of computer lab at a Yemen university that does not have electricity
Thamar University in Yemen does not have power for the computer lab

The campus was utilising a diesel generator, but the school ran out of money for fuel. In fact, they can’t afford to pay employee salaries. Since 2015, the university staff has been working on a volunteer basis.

“A university with poor services is more likely to lose its students.” Engineers without Borders Netherlands volunteer Jorge Ortiz Gonzalez knows that the current situation is not sustainable for the university and could have a long-lasting negative impact on the country. “They have a full generation of IT students who have barely taken practical lessons.”

Jorge is a PV (photovoltaic) engineer- which means he is an expert in using solar cells to transform sunlight directly into electricity. So, when the university pitched the solar project to EWB-NL, he had a few motivations for stepping into the role of project lead.

“The thing that I liked most about it was its direct relationship with education. Also, I have previously volunteered in the Middle East, and this project sort of nicely connected that moment in the past with the present.”

Entrance to Thamar university in Yemen. A stone gate with national flag above
Thamar University – also called Dhamar

This is just one of the sustainable energy projects that EWB-NL has recently undertaken. Volunteer engineers are also working on solar energy infrastructures in Andavadoaka and Yikpa– two communities in rural Madagascar. Such initiatives are helping to advance access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy- a UN sustainable development goal.

For Thamar University, Jorge and his team designed an offgrid system consisting of solar panels and batteries to provide energy campus-wide. Jorge explains that solar PV is an ideal solution because the costs of the technology are declining and maintenance is minimal. The PV system would also deliver energy precisely when the campus needs it- during the time classes are being held.

“All the rest is there for this project in Yemen- a technical design, local distributors and installers, and a good organisation that will ensure the proper functioning of the system in the long term.”

A wide angle view of Dhamar, Yemen with buildings and skyscrapers and mountains in the background.
Dhamar, Yemen

Since PV technology is becoming more prevalent in the region, he also says there is an added benefit for the university.

“The system could also be used for educational purposes to improve the technical knowledge of how to install, operate and maintain a medium sized PV system with battery storage.”

But, for now, getting computers powered on and classrooms lit up will have far-reaching implications for Thamar University and beyond.

“Bringing electricity to the campus can also energise both students and staff. Improving the quality of the education is one of the best ways to empower a community.”

A special thanks to the Yemen solar project team for their hard work in developing potential solutions to help Thamar University. Learn more about how you can support EWB-NL’s sustainable energy projects.

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