Monday, November 18, 2013

A Gift Earned / Un regalo ganado

Well, the 2013 APSA training period has ended, and a new family has been formed. Saturday the final bus left the Earth University to send off the last of the APSA Alumni back to their home countries where they will begin or in some cases continue to carry the torch towards a renewable energy future for the Americas. On behalf of all the instructors who participated in APSA ’13 and everyone at SEI I would like to say that this past year has been a spectacular journey, one which could not have culminated any better than it has these past two weeks.

There are now 50 people from across Central America and Mexico whose lives have been changed, and who have furthered there knowledge and practice of solar PV design & Installation.  The highlight was the community that was formed of eager, energized, and inspired people who have now become agents of change. A new chapter has begun in the Americas and after graduating this first group of people in to the APSA program I am humbled to know that the world is blessed with 50 champions linked by a strong passion to do good for their countries and the world.

We sent two Barefoot Solar LED light systems, one to Guatemala and one to Panama where they will be implemented in areas of each country bringing great benefit. Stay tuned for more information on those two projects. There are students who are back home getting ready to install over 130 killowatts of PV in different projects, and others who will begin discussions with their Universities on starting up PV Training Programs.

The SEI family has grown by 50, united with the strength and courage of a lion and the spirit of an eagle.

Next, is a small period of rest for me then the work of continuing the networking and education amongst the APSA Alumni, collecting stories of how they are impacting the renewable energy industry in the Americas, and working to create training opportunities for future APSA alumni while at the same time helping build a solar movement.

If you are interested in learning more about the APSA ’13 project, or about future opportunities with SEI please contact me at

-Matthew Harris
Director Academia de Profesionales Solares de las Américas


Pues bien, el periodo de formación 2013 APSA ha terminado, y una nueva familia que se ha formado. Sábado el último autobús salió de la Universidad de la EARTH de enviar de el último de la APSA Alumni de vuelta a sus países de origen cuando van a empezar a llevar la antorcha hacia un futuro de energía renovable para las Américas. En nombre de todos los profesores que participaron en APSA '13 y todo el mundo en el SEI me gustaría decir que este último año ha sido un viaje espectacular, una que no podría haber culminado mejor que tiene estas dos últimas semanas.

Hay 50 personas de toda América Central y Méxicocuyas vidas se han cambiado, y que han avanzado existe el conocimiento y la práctica del diseño y la instalación solar fotovoltaica. El punto culminante fue la comunidad que se formó de la personas deseosas, lleno de energía y de inspiración que ahora se han convertido en agentes de cambio. Un nuevo capítulo se ha iniciado en las Américas y después de graduarse en este primer grupo de personas en el programa de APSA Me siento muy honrado de saber que el mundo es bendecido con 50 campeones unidos por una fuerte pasión por hacer el bien a sus países y el mundo.

Enviamos dos sistemas de iluminación LED de Barefoot Solar , uno a Guatemala y uno en Panamá, donde se llevarán a cabo en las zonas de cada país trayendo grandes beneficios. Estén atentos para más información sobre estos dos proyectos. Hay estudiantes que están de vuelta a casa preparándose para instalar más de 130 killowatts de PV en diferentes proyectos, y otros que se iniciarán conversaciones con sus Universidades en poner en marcha programas de formación fotovoltaica.

La familia SEI ha crecido en un 50, unido con la fuerza y el coraje de un león y el espíritu de un águila.

A continuación, hay un pequeño periodo de descanso para mí entonces el trabajo de continuar con el creación de redes y la educación entre los Alumni APSA, recogiendo historias de cómo están afectando a la industria de la energía renovable en las Américas, y trabajar para crear oportunidades de formación para los futuros alumnos de APSA, mientras al mismo tiempo, ayudar a construir un movimiento solar.

If you are interested in learning more about the APSA ’13 project, or about future opportunities with SEI please contact me at

-Matthew Harris
Director Academia de Profesionales Solares de las Américas

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What a second week we are having. Just two more days left in this year's APSA program of PV training. The trainees are having a great experience learning about PV Design & Installation. They are also spending a lot of time networking and focusing on future collaborations. Similarly the group of trainees from last week have been busy communicating online about their recent experience. Karolina Fernandez, SEI instructor in the first week was inspired by the floods of emails coming in from last week's class. She had this to say; "In any of your SEI workshops has there been such an exhaustive display of brotherhood as this?? Look at this, every single person who took the workshop has sent a heartfelt message of thank you, offering their homes, their friendships and every support possible in each of their countries. I'm amazed at what SEI was able to create here. Couldn't be happier!! THANK YOU SEI!!!"

We have been working hard this week continuing with the PV installations and labs. Tomorrow we will complete the installations leaving them powered

on providing sun free electricity for the Earth Univeristy-La Flor campus. We have also been working in groups by country to identify the barriers, challenges and opportunities of bringing solar electricity to the Americas. Tonight we will hear presentations from each country on what they identified as a roadmap to a future of solar in the Americas.
We have also been working in groups by country to identify the barrier, challenges and
opportunities of bringing solar electricity to the Americas. Tonight we will hear presentations from each country on what they identified as a road map to a future of solar in the Americas.  
Every night has been full of activities, whether it be a great game of soccer, presentations from the trainees, or networking. The other night we heard from people in a format we call 5x5, which means they each had 5 minutes to present 5 slides on the exciting work they are doing back home. 
Marcos from Jalapa Mexico shared his work with environmentally friendly building with the group.  These buildings are in the country side outside the mountain town of Jalapa in the Veracruz State of Mexico.  His group uses natural building materials available locally: bamboo for the structural components and rammed earth for the walls.  The roof is made of bamboo and thatch.  They filter the gray water with fish in a pond and use composting toilets for solid waste.
They  incorporate solar panels for electricity, solar thermal radian in floor heat, and natural ventilation techniques for cooling during the hot months.
His company MAMAM does energy audits and photovoltaic installations in the region.  Marcos showed us his online data monitoring of energy consumption at one site where they have installed solar panels. He uses e-guage brand monitoring equipment that  With the real time monitoring his clients can simultaneously see their consumption and production of electricity. The can also see how loads are used throughout the day (we saw that the loads peaked around 8 am, while the PV production peaked near mid-day). 
can monitor 11 circuits of either loads or energy production.
He answered a lot of questions about how much the monitoring systems cost and how it works. There is great interest within our group in finding inexpensive and comprehensive ways to monitor energy use and productions.  

Anibal from Honduras talked about their program with Trees, Water, and People where they sell small solar lighting packages to people that live in rural areas where there is no electrical service.  The market analysis they conducted showed that the market for small solar systems of less than 30 watts was many times larger than the market for larger systems.  They set out to figure out a cost effective way to serve this market and provide employment to distributors and sales people.

They sell a pre-packaged system called Barefoot Connect. It comes with a 6 watt solar panel, a charge controller with an integrated 4 amp hour sealed battery to store the solar energy.  The kit comes with four LED lights with their own switch that plug directly into the integrated control center. There is an USB port where a cell phone charger can be plugged in. 

Very little technical knowledge is needed to install the system.  All the components come with a cord that plugs into the control unit and have an integrated switch in the cord.  Graphics on the unit indicate where to plug in the solar and where to plug in the lights.  Someone with no technical experience can install the system and have it operational in an hour or two.  Go to for more information.

The cost to the end user is between US$200 and US$250 depending on the distance from town and the legal and tax structure of the country. 

They have set up a network of distributors for each community and supply them with the solar light packages. The distributors sell them to the end users at  profit of about $50 per unit.   The demand outpaced their ability to supply people with the solar light packaged, but after the second round of sales they have increased their cash flow from $80,000 to nearly $200,000 and have been able to stock more product to meet the demand. 

Anibal explained how they set up the legal organization and that you needed to have some capital to start up the operation.  What most impressed the group was the fact that they serve the most isolated folks and still make a living doing it.  This is the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid.

Tomorrow we will tour the 1MW Solar Plant in Miravalles and then celebrate a relaxing evening at the nearby hot springs resort. I am going to need that after ending my Costa Rican soccer career last night pulling a muscle in my leg. 

Until next time. Thank you for checking in on this blog and for everyone who has supported the APSA program. It has truly been an eye opening and inspiring project for SEI.

- Matthew Harris
Director Academia de Profesionales Solares de las Américas