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NMSU Institute pioneers global renewable energy development

New Mexico State University researchers are advancing the growth of international renewable energy systems with the ultimate goal of replicating technological success and facilitating clean, energy independence for many developing nations.

Honduran engineers conduct a field evaluation and maintenance on the La Cienega Rural Health Clinic photovoltaic system during a New Mexico State University Institute for Energy and the Environment solar course training. (NMSU photo)

The Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE) through the College of Engineering is assisting countries with overseas stand-alone photovoltaic (PV) solar and wind energy systems technology and training, which provide cost-effective power for lighting, communication, fans, refrigerators and water pumping.

Despite three decades of heavy investment by less developed nations on electrification projects, often at huge environmental and social costs, about 2 billion people in developing regions still lack electricity for basic needs and economic growth. Hundreds of millions of households around the globe rely solely on kerosene lamps for lighting, disposable batteries for radios, and in some cases car batteries recharged weekly for television. The Institute's wind energy program includes promotion of inexpensive, small wind turbines for electrification development either as a centralized or distributed energy solution. The solar energy systems operate by converting available solar energy into electric power needed for daily activities.

Robert Foster, international program manager for the Southwest Region Solar Experiment Station, an IEE arm specializing in solar, wind and geothermal energy systems said, "For most of these people, there is little likelihood of receiving electricity from conventional grid sources in the near future. The cost of bringing utility power via transmission and distribution lines to non-electrified villages is large, especially considering the typically small household electrical loads and that many villages are located at great distances over difficult terrain from the existing grid. Solar and wind technologies offer an economically viable electrification solution for these communities today." Despite logistical difficulties, there is growing momentum in supplying electricity to these less-developed regions with solar and wind energy sources, both of which offer clean, energy independent security. Other benefits include sustainable development by using indigenous renewable energy resources and creating long-term local jobs.

"The Institute works on many fronts to address environmental sustainability all over the world," said Abbas Ghassemi, IEE executive director. "IEE was instrumental and directly responsible for the first- and second-largest PV systems in New Mexico. This work is a natural extension of our success closer to home." The Institute's Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking staff has trained more than 7,000 engineers and technicians throughout Latin America on solar and wind technologies and electrical codes.

The IEE charter member has been involved with developing solar and wind energy technologies for off-grid regions overseas in more than 30 countries for the past 15 years. The organization has provided technical support for a number of development programs, especially in Mexico, Central America, Brazil, and the Caribbean, resulting in thousands of solar and wind system installations. Many of these NMSU-trained participants have gone on to lead significant solar and wind energy programs in their countries.

The goals of IEE's international renewable energy programs are to promote installation and use of safe, renewable energy systems, enhance economic and social development, create new business opportunities, and provide clean energy sources. The IEE approach focuses on creating partnerships, building local capacity, providing technical assistance, implementing pilot projects, monitoring progress and results, and replicating technology successes.

In 2007, IEE supported Winrock International's solar/wind community water supply program in 16 communities in the state of Bahia, Brazil, with the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. The Institute also supported the World Bank's Rural Infrastructure Project in Honduras by recently training engineers for a large PV systems rural electrification program for northern Honduras for 5,000 systems.

Also this year, IEE has provided technical assistance to the World Bank's Renewable Energy Program for Rural Zones in Nicaragua for the Miskito Indians for PV battery charging in the Waspam region, as well as conducting an assessment for a solar hybrid system on the southern Atlantic Coast for the town of San Juan del Norte. IEE has also been working in collaboration with NMSU International Programs National Science Foundation's Partnerships for Innovation Program on renewable energy development with Monterrey Technological University (ITESM) in Chihuahua, Mexico, and others.

NMSU's IEE is helping pioneer development of renewable energy technologies for sustainable development around the world. The IEE comprises WERC: A Consortium for Environmental and Educational Development, the Southwest Technology Development Institute, and the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center. For more information, contact Ghassemi at (505) 646-2038 or visit http://iee.nmsu.edu.