Speaker talks solar energy

| Contributing Reporter
Robert Freling speaks on the installation and use of solar energy in developing areas of the world. Freling’s talk was a part of the Assembly Series and was sponsored by Engineers Without Borders and the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. (Matt Mitgang | Student Life)

Robert Freling speaks on the installation and use of solar energy in developing areas of the world. Freling’s talk was a part of the Assembly Series and was sponsored by Engineers Without Borders and the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. (Matt Mitgang | Student Life)

Robert Freling, the executive director of the Solar Electric Light Fund since 1997, spoke in Graham Chapel on Thursday afternoon as part of the Assembly Series. Following the speech, the Olin Cup Idea Bounce took place.

Freling has journeyed on behalf of the organization (SELF) throughout much of the world—traveling to parts of Latin America, the South Pacific, Africa and Asia—in an attempt to provide solar energy to backwater impoverished villages.

SELF, a nonprofit development aid organization, hopes to “provide solar power and wireless communications to a quarter of the world’s population living in energy poverty.” It accomplishes this by going into small rural communities far removed from energy sources and giving individual houses, schools and essential buildings small solar panels-enough to supply electricity several hours a day. Other projects SELF is involved in include the creation of solar powered water pumps and irrigation systems for areas of the world with prolonged dry seasons.

Freling acknowledged that ending energy scarcity is an endeavor far beyond the capabilities of his organization. “There are groups that have sprung up in the past five, 10 years that have, in one way or another, copied or emulated some of the work that we’ve done in the past, and I applaud that,” he stated. “Let a thousand flowers bloom because 2 billion people without power, you know, we need all the help we can get.”

Part of Freling’s speech focused on the relationship between SELF and Partners in Health (PIH), the health care organization founded by Paul Farmer, subject of the best-seller “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” by Tracy Kidder.

“The first time I met Paul [in 2006], he said, ‘We’re really happy about what you guys are doing in Rwanda, but what about Haiti? Don’t forget about Haiti,’” Freling said. “This became like a mantra every time I saw Paul…Finally, in August of last year, we electrified the first of 10 P.I.H. health centers [in Haiti].”

Freling went on to say that, thankfully, the centers survived the quake and were being used to treat a large number of victims of the current earthquake. Partners in Health currently has plans to convert all of its health centers—currently running on diesel generators—to solar power, installed by SELF. Freling hopes to do the same with many other nonprofits around the world.

He closed by showing part of a movie highlighting SELF’s goals and accomplishments, focusing on Africa, and then took questions.

The event was open to the public and featured a diverse audience, ranging from students to senior citizens.

Crowd reaction to Freling appeared positive, with several attendees praising his organization and speech. Students, professors and attendees posed several questions regarding his organization, the challenges they have faced, and their current stance on the Haitian catastrophe.

“He was amazing,” said William Swanson, a sophomore. “He talked about a lot of stuff that people don’t think about and also had a lot of information that we didn’t know about before.”