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Barefoot College and Microformers shine as innovative power solutions

Institutions like India's Barefoot College, which teaches women how to run and repair solar installations, and projects like Microformers, which converts old microwave ovens into transformers, show ways to generate cheap electricity in poor regions.

By Pete MercouriouGlobal Envision / March 30, 2012

People install solar panels on the Saint-Michel health center and a fish hatchery in Boucan Carre, Haiti. The panels will provide the town with a dependable electricity supply for the first time. Only a quarter of Haiti's 10 million people has regular access to electricity. In 28 countries, Barefoot College is teaching people to harness solar power for electricity.

Dieu Nalio Chery/AP/File

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Wherever you live, electricity is an increasing expense. In the developing world, communities have seen this challenge and taken their energy needs into their own hands.

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Long-term planning for lightning energy change:
 According to The Guardian,  Barefoot College in India has educated people to harness the sun’s power so their communities become more sustainable and self-sufficient.

Barefoot College launched its solar power course for women in 2005, and already more than 150 women from 28 countries have been trained in electrical and solar engineering. Over 10,000 homes in 100 villages have been solar electrified, saving 1.5 million liters (396,258 gallons) of kerosene and minimizing its negative health effects in homes.

Barefoot College uses technology that is simple so people with low levels of education can use it and earn an income by assisting their fellow community members in installing the solar panels.

Entrepreneurship for collaborative power energy change:
 At the University of Wisconsin at Madison, three budding entrepreneurs – Dan Ludois, Jonathan Lee, and Patricio Medoza Araya – are using recycled parts of old household microwaves to create the “Microformer” – a device that can multiply the low-wattage from a developing country's electrical grid and provide enough electricity to power a few lights, a small refrigerator, and other small electronics on an ongoing basis.

But, there’s a problem: cost. Though this mini-transformer cuts the price tag of a traditional transformer by a great deal, the $60 price tag may still be a tough sell in some ares. For middle-income families in developing countries, it may be affordable. For most people living in poverty, it's out of reach.

But, these young inventors from Wisconsin are committed to furthering their research, tweaking their design, and offering free online instruction seminars to ensure that as many people as possible can benefit from their work. One way they can do that is by collaborating with institutions like Barefoot College and others working on energy access to nurture their shared passions – pulling people out of poverty.

In the right light, the right partnership can create something extraordinary.

This article originally appeared at Global Envision, a blog published by Mercy Corps.

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