Students Provide Costa Ricans with Clean Energy

Texas Tech students installed a solar light system to help families in Los Cocos.

The following is an adaptation from Terry McInturff's "Bright Jungle" as told to Lori Cortez.

The energy commerce program was focused on bringing clean and affordable energy to the citizens in the Los Cocos community.

The energy commerce program was focused on bringing clean and affordable energy to the citizens in the Los Cocos community.

Imagine living every day arranging your daily activities around when the sun rises and sets. Therefore, from the hours of 6 p.m. until 5 a.m. your only sources of light are candles and rudimentary, homemade kerosene lamps. What if this never changed? Could you function?

In the Los Cocos community of the Talamanca region in Costa Rica, people live exactly like this day in and day out, and seasonal change is slight because of the region's closeness to the equator. The light sources are limited and this complicates evening activities such as studying or going outside. Not to mention most of the region's 22 poisonous snake species and other predatory animals are only active when it's dark.

In August, Texas Tech's Energy Commerce program, which is housed in the Rawls College of Business, took 11 of its students to Shiroles, Costa Rica, to participate in the first World Energy Project, consisting of solar lighting installation in homes and an establishment of a local microfinance institution. The project was designed to develop the community of Los Cocos and provided an opportunity for many of its people to change their own lives.

Hugh Whalan, CEO of Energy In Common, emphasized the reality of a lack of energy in many developing countries.

"More than 125,000 years ago, your ancestors discovered fire, and with it came a source of heat, warmth and light. Unfortunately, for one in three people living today, very little has changed. This is energy poverty."

"Really let this sink in. One-third of the world's population lives like this," Whalan said.

An International Perspective

For energy commerce students, many who move on immediately after graduation to work in the energy industry, there has been an increasing interest in renewable energy opportunities. Few American students have an awareness of the importance of community service, and fewer have a grasp on energy in other countries.

While in Costa Rica, the students learned unexpected lessons. One lesson included the logistics of transportation and product distribution, two areas American consumers take for granted. To obtain diesel, one would have to take large, plastic containers down to the river, transport them across to the other side by canoe, and then travel 15 miles by taxi to the nearest diesel station.

After completion of classroom and technical training on the technology of solar lighting systems, students were ready to begin installation. Again, logistics played a large roll. In order to reach an installation site, students traveled by bus to the river, which they crossed by a motorized canoe, then from there they drove 20 miles by bus, then walked between five to 45 minutes. In all, it could take up to two hours to reach an installation site.

For Rob Morgan, a student participant from Austin, the experience was a unique and hands-on opportunity.

"The World Energy Project allowed us to experience things we would not have access to in the U.S. Actually seeing and working in that level of poverty emphasized the severe limitation of opportunity in underdeveloped areas," Morgan said.

One of the solar instruments installed in the houses.

One of the solar instruments installed in the houses.

Making it Affordable

The Texas Tech energy commerce program provided funding to create a sustainable microfinance institution which enables a way for the people of Los Cocos to purchase their solar lighting systems for their homes on affordable terms.

The World Energy Project is not an aid program, but rather a chance for students to learn about community development and learn ways to implement community service through energy opportunities. Therefore, in the microfinance aspect of the project, clients were loaned money to purchase the $250 system. Each client saves the money they would have spent on candles and kerosene then purchases the lighting system through payments. As a result, within about 16-18 months, the client will own the system.

In addition, the life expectancy of the solar lighting equipment is 15-20 years and it will power two LED lights for about eight hours on a full charge, extending the day to enable evening activities. The system also eliminates harmful residue from the kerosene used in the old lamps and is a sustainable source of clean, affordable energy.


Kristi Clanton, a student participant from Lubbock, said experiencing the reality of rural Costa Rica was both enlightening and humbling.

"After installing the LED solar lighting systems, I realized and accepted the significance of effective, sustainable energy in community development and am more aware and appreciative of my daily access to reliable, effective energy resources."

"The World Energy Project positively impacted many lives, especially my own," Clanton said.

To complete, the students installed 20 of the lighting systems in different homes.  Plans are currently underway for the 2011 World Energy Project, with hopes to include 20 students.

Fortunately, through industry and private donors, the 2010 World Energy Project was able to provide the students with scholarships for 90 percent of the cost to participate in the project. For more information or to donate to the project, contact Terry McInturff at (806) 742-1609.

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Rawls College of Business

The Rawls College of Business accounts for about 25 percent of Texas Tech graduates.

The college has a full-time teaching staff of roughly 100 in seven academic areas: accounting; energy, economics and law; finance; health organization management; information systems and quantitative sciences; management; and marketing.

The college offers an accredited weekend MBA for Working Professionals program.

Dedicated to connecting students, alumni and employers, the Career Management Center assists Rawls College students with their transition to the world-of-work, and supplies prospective employers with top-notch candidates, ready to make an immediate contribution.

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