By James M. Tinjum, PE, PhD
James Tinjum, a professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with an emphasis in renewable energy and sustainability, recently returned from a 2000-km bike trip across the Upper Midwest. The trip, known as #BikeTheSun, sought to increase awareness of solar energy and to raise funds for a distributed solar system at a shelter for abused children in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico (Hogar Albergue para Niños Jesús de Nazaret). Riding an e-assist touring bike (Photo 1), Dr. Tinjum visited four dozen solar energy sites across Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota that ranged in size from residential-scale systems to utility-scale solar sites that have the capacity to power thousands of residences. During this two-week bike trip, Dr. Tinjum raised close to $10,000 for the #SolarParaNinos project.
Solar Para Niños will benefit a non-profit home for marginalized children in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. The mission of the Hogar is to offer shelter, food, transportation, health, education, recreation, social, and psychological services to children who are victims of abuse and that have been referred by the Department of the Family. The Hogar currently hosts eleven children aged 3 to 9 years old and three infants with a 24-hour rotating staff of paid employees. With the installation of a 35-kW distributed, rooftop solar system on the three buildings of the Hogar, the goal of #SolarParaNinos is to substantially reduce if not eliminate the Hogar’s nearly $1,000 per month electricity bill, thus focusing their limited resources into the direct well-being of the children.
Solar Para Niños is being designed, managed, and implemented by the University of Wisconsin-Madison chapter of Engineers without Borders (EWB). Including the #BikeTheSun campaign, nearly $67,000 of the $90,000 needed for the purchase and installation of the solar panels and related electrical equipment has been raised (including a $2,500 donation from the Puerto Rican Agenda of Chicago). The next step is the detailed design. This semester, along with professional mentors from industry, UW-Madison EWB will be working to select the equipment, prepare a detailed design, and prepare contract documents such that, with the next site visit in December, they can appropriately interview on-island contractors that would actually assist with the install, which is targeted for the spring of 2019. If you wish to find out more about this project or learn how to donate/help, please visit solarparaninos.com.