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A Hillsboro-based solar energy nonprofit set a new goal to power schools in Haiti following a massive earthquake.

COURTESY PHOTO: BRIGHTEN HAITI - Solar panels installed on a school in the town of Durissy, Haiti, located 50 miles west of the capital of Port-au-Prince.As aid groups bring food and medical assistance to Haiti following a devastating earthquake earlier this month, a Hillsboro-based nonprofit recently announced an ambitious goal to power Haitian schools with solar energy.

Brighten Haiti, which was founded in Hillsboro in 2019, has plans to begin deploying solar systems to 109 schools across rural Haiti in January 2022.

The nonprofit works to boost access to electricity in Haiti, where nearly half of the population lives without electricity, according to the World Bank, by providing solar systems to communities. The organization also helps to train Haitians to sell and install solar panels, with hopes to teach people to build them in the future.

Each school will receive a 6-kilowatt solar system, which is enough for the schools to power a computer lab, high-efficiency lights, fans and other devices, officials from Brighten Haiti said in a statement Aug. 23.

After a 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit the Caribbean island country on Aug. 14, killing at least 2,100 people and destroying thousands of homes, Brighten Haiti officials say the disaster is even more of a reason to provide locally-based electricity systems.

"The need for rural off-grid solar systems has come into even more stark relief," officials said. "A (photovoltaic) system on a local school can provide the surrounding area with a source of electricity when an area is cut off by disaster."

Kevin Keene, Brighten Haiti's founder, said he has been in touch with people in the town of Durissy, Haiti, where he traveled with a Portland-based nonprofit to install a solar system at a school a few years ago. The town is located 50 miles west of the capital of Port-au-Prince.

COURTESY PHOTO: BRIGHTEN HAITI - Kevin Keene, founder of the Hillsboro-based nonprofit Brighten Haiti, with students at a school in the town of Durissy, Haiti."We have been able to make contact with people in the Durissy area after the earthquake," Keene said. "The bridge to their area is out. Thankfully they have access to independent electricity for lighting and refrigeration. It shows us just how important these systems are beyond the impressive impacts to education."

Just days after the earthquake, Tropical Storm Grace rolled through the country, complicating aid efforts.

Haiti is also coping with political turmoil in the aftermath of the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July.

Fewer than 35% of Haitian schools have access to basic electricity, Brighten Haiti officials noted, which dramatically limits schools' ability to provide a 21st-century education.

"Education is a clear path out of poverty,"  Bright Haiti officials said, citing a recent study by UNESCO.

The nonprofit acquires the solar panels it provides to Haiti through relationships with commercial solar panel companies and some utility companies. As the companies upgrade to ever-improving solar panel technology, they decommission older solar panels, which Brighten Haiti receives at a reduced cost.

Keene previously worked at the now-defunct solar panel factory in Hillsboro SolarWorld. He currently works in the area for a Minnesota-based solar panel manufacturer.

Brighten Haiti has already worked with several US solar companies to ship nearly 4,000 solar panels to Haiti, officials said.

But in order to get them running, it needs to purchase other equipment to convert the electric charge generated by the solar panels into usable electricity.

Keene said Brighten Haiti is working with a solar manufacturer that will be able to provide the other equipment at a discount, allowing 109 schools to receive full solar systems.

"What prompted this extraordinary goal is when we figured out how to get the costs down to a point that is extremely scalable," he said.

The nonprofit is partnering with the non-governmental organization Food for the Poor to identify the 109 schools across the country that will receive solar systems.

"The generosity of our solar partners has made it possible to install a (6-kilowatt) off-grid system for about $6,000, where we would normally see that same system installed at about $30,000," Keene said. "And we are able to provide installation training, giving people access to solar jobs after the training is complete."

People interested in helping Brighten Haiti acquire the additional equipment needed for the solar systems can visit brightenhaiti.org.


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