In June 2018, Villanova University’s College of Engineering signed a memorandum of understanding with Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral (ESPOL) in Ecuador, to promote the development of academic, scientific and institutional cooperation between the universities. That relationship has led to several joint initiatives, one of which has recently received funding through the IEEE SIGHT (Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology) Projects Committee. The fund supports IEEE volunteers around the world who partner with underserved communities and local organizations to address societal challenges through the use of sustainable and humanitarian technology.
With Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Pritpal Singh, PhD, leading the efforts for Villanova, a team of faculty and students from both universities has been awarded $18,000 for the rehabilitation of solar home systems in Cerrito de Los Morreños in the Gulf of Guayaquil, Ecuador. The population of 600 inhabitants in roughly 100 homes in this island community live without access to the electrical grid. Instead, power is provided by a 195 kW diesel generator that runs from 5:00 p.m. until midnight daily. Eight years ago, a European Union-funded project installed solar panels in 78 homes in the community, however, most of the solar home systems are no longer working due to lack of maintenance and operational knowledge.
“The aim of the project is to rehabilitate the solar home systems and train the local community in their operation and maintenance, enhancing the capacity building of the community and supporting the sustainable development of the island,” explains Dr. Singh. The long-term objective is for the community to have a reliable and uninterrupted power supply, and an economic structure reliant on energy metering to sustain the project. In the process, reducing dependency on the diesel generator will address environmental concerns and contribute to economic savings on fuel and maintenance.
The team consists of six experts in renewable energy, six student volunteers from Villanova University and ESPOL, and members of the local community. In addition to Dr. Singh, who has many years of experience working in renewable energy and humanitarian projects in Latin America and Africa, Villanova Engineering PhD candidate Javier Urquizo—who came to the University through ESPOL—will contribute his experience with solar projects. His research area is focused on rural electrification and energy access to isolated communities using renewable energy. A group of Villanova Engineering undergraduates—Electrical Engineering seniors John Rechichi, John Timon and Douglas Hauser, and Civil Engineering senior Daniel Fetsko—are working on this project through the Villanova Engineering Service Learning program and are preparing to implement the project in January 2019, along with electrical engineering majors at ESPOL.
Dr. Singh says, “We look forward to the project’s success, in large part because we have engaged the community in training and development. Their excitement and support will be necessary to sustain it for the long term.” He adds, “The project can then serve as an example for surrounding island communities to engage in similar initiatives considering renewable energy projects to fulfill their energy needs.”