Student Chapter Learns, Serves in Haiti


Ohio State U

From left to right: translator Samy Victor; Eric Moyer; John Hnilo; Trace Searles; Pastor Bernato’s son, Bebétu, and nephew, James; and Ben Aring stand with the newly installed PV panels. Photo: Jo McCulty/The Ohio State University

With their suitcases filled with supplies, some unofficial training under their belts and PV panels in the cargo bay of an airplane, four engineering students from the Ohio State University (OSU) student chapter of ASES headed to Haiti on the first Sunday of their spring break.

In partnership with another campus organization, Ben Aring, Trace Searles, Eric Moyer and John Hnilo would equip a Haitian school with a 500-watt system using Canadian Solar photovoltaic panels to power three Lunera LED light fixtures at night and to run two Nextek ceiling fans during the day.

The group had just one week to tour five schools around the town of Croix-des-Bouquets, meet with principals and teachers, choose a school based on its structural integrity and solar site analysis and install the entire system, sans adviser.

This past school year was the OSU student chapter’s first full year as an official OSU organization and ASES chapter. After the Solar Decathlon of 2009, one of the student leaders, Lucas Dixon, wanted a more permanent fixture of solar energy on the OSU campus. Now a co-advisor, he determined that an ASES chapter would be the best vehicle. Four founding members named the chapter Solar Education and Outreach (SE&O), reflecting their desire to be a project-oriented group. They hoped to speak about solar energy at schools and “do projects to show off the power of the sun,” said Ben Aring, a civil engineering student, a founding member and incoming president.

Solar Light

Students install a Lunera LeD light fixture at the school, Institution Mixte la Trinite Chretienne. Photo: Jo McCulty/The Ohio State University

Their first project combined both of those organizational desires. The Haiti Empowerment Project, a professional development program in collaboration with OSU and Haitian schools, sought out SE&O to complete a solar installation on a Haitian school with the eventual goal of teaching the students about solar energy.

The chapter raised $14,000 to purchase equipment and fund the trip. Their suppliers — Lunera, DC Power Systems, Nextek Power Systems and Zep Solar — supported the cause through discounts.

Before the trip, the students knew little about PV systems. Their co-adviser, NABCEP-trained Scotte Elliott, guided them through the process and assisted in system wiring while they were still in Columbus.

Instead of bringing tools on the plane, the students elected to find tools and batteries (two lead-acid golf cart batteries) in Haiti. Limited tool choices and a corrugated roof made the project take longer than expected, but the students didn’t run into any major installation problems. The team credits Zep Solar’s easy-to-install mounting system.

When the students were choosing the school to receive the installation, many technical aspects played into the decision. The school’s 30-foot-high roof and perimeter fencing were important factors for the PV system’s security. The students were also glad to know that the owner of the school, a pastor, plays an important role in the community. The six hours of light that the LEDs will provide each night should open up opportunities for nighttime education programs, worship groups and community events.

As the SE&O team finished up last-minute work on Saturday evening, they noticed one Haitian student studying by the lone security light already in place, barely able to see his work. Especially during the times of the year that the sun sets around 5:30, the LED lights will play a small but crucial role in allowing students to stay after-hours to study.

When the lights finally clicked on around 7:30 Saturday evening, “Everyone was speechless, there were tears of joy — Pastor Bernato couldn’t have been any more thankful,” said Aring.

As next year’s president, Aring would love to take SE&O back to Haiti to install another system and to teach the students about solar energy.

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