Solar Para Niños is a solar installation project that will help Hogar Albergue para Niños Jesús de Nazareta non-profit shelter for physically abused children.

When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September 2017, UW-Madison engineering professor James Tinjum was particularly affected, with relatives currently living on the island and his fiancé having grown up there. He wanted to help beyond just donating goods for immediate consumption. He wanted to make a lasting impact.

Since the hurricane, Tinjum has channeled his efforts to help with long-term, resilient, sustainable disaster relief. He as organized Solar Para Niños, a project to provide aid to Hogar Albergue para Niños Jesús de Nazaret, a non-profit shelter in Puerto Rico for abused children that have been referred by the Department of the Family.

Tinjum will install solar panels at the shelter to significantly reduce its energy costs. The installation is expected free up at least $500 USD per month, allowing the shelter to invest more money in helping the children. While the project is not directly related to the devastation of the hurricane, it’s a step toward overall relief – and sustainability.

Tinjum is working with UW-Madison Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and graduate students in the Sustainable Systems Engineering (SSE) program which he advises to implement and fund the project.

The students of EWB and SSE will coordinate the majority of the planning and management. Not only will they learn about renewable energy resiliency and sustainability, they will be participating in a project that will have a real and immediate impact on people in need.

The solar installation will be funded by donations, so the installed system will depend largely on how much is raised. To accomplish the minimum project objectives of reducing the shelter’s utility bills by $500 per month, the target is to raise $80,000 by September 1, 2018. To completely address monthly electricity bills of $1,000 per month, over $100,000 would be needed by the end of 2018.

This summer, Tinjum is participating in a fundraiser called #BiketheSun, where he will bike 1,600 km around the Upper Midwest to visit solar energy sites and raise funds for Solar Para Niños. Follow his journey on his blog; he departs on July 28 from Madison.

In Puerto Rico, solar is 0.41 percent of the total energy mix. It is not insignificant, but there is room for growth, according to Tinjum. Tinjum also aims to demonstrate the viability of solar projects so that other organizations and charities have a model for similar projects.

Follow #SolarParaNiños to learn more about the project as it evolves and consider donating to the project fund. Even when you’re 2,000 miles away, you can make a difference.