Renewable Energy in Central America: ¡Mucho Sol!

Richard at Universidad Don Bosco

Richard Engel shows his class how to measure angles for designing solar energy systems. Gina Navas, the woman holding the device, is a technical advisor to the president of El Salvador. (Photo courtesy Universidad Don Bosco.)

SERC’s Richard Engel recently spent half a year away from the lab, on a Fulbright-sponsored assignment in El Salvador. He assisted Universidad Don Bosco in renewable energy program development, designing and teaching a Spanish-language course, developing preliminary designs for two on-campus renewable energy projects, and helping UDB to create its own energy research facility.

Surprisingly, tiny El Salvador, just twice the size of Humboldt County but crowded with some six million inhabitants, is one of the world’s leading renewable energy users. Over 60% of its electricity comes from renewable sources, mainly hydropower, geothermal energy, and biomass used in sugar processing plants. The solar energy resource is also abundant, but has been little exploited to date for economic reasons.

Richard’s class was a broad introduction to renewable energy and energy efficiency. Students in the course included UDB instructors, students starting out in UDB’s new renewable energy master’s program, and energy professionals working for public and private sector employers. The university’s facilities for hands- on lab activities with renewable energy were very limited, but Richard collaborated with U.S. embassy personnel to secure a State Department grant that is being used to equip a new campus energy lab at UDB, set to open in September.

UDB and Humboldt State University are both eager to build on the work Richard and his UDB colleagues did together. HSU President Rollin Richmond and UDB’s Rector Federico Huguet have signed a collaboration agreement, and plans are underway for follow-up exchange visits between the two institutions.

Richard enjoyed returning to Central America for an extended stay; during the 1990s he spent two years in neighboring Honduras as a Peace Corps volunteer. This time around, he kept a blog about his experiences at UDB and weekends spent taking his students on field trips to energy projects or exploring the countryside with his wife Basilia. See entrelosvolcanes.blogspot.com for more stories and photos.