Solar for Zambia

SCSE graduate student BJ Allen brings solar panels to health clinics in Africa.

Imagine if a portable power plant could be taken into the most far-flung places in the world, where electricity doesn’t reach. Imagine if electrical power could extend into rainforests, deserts, or even to remote villages in Zambia. Imagine if that same electricity could power health care clinics and save lives.

Solar suitcase delivery
Muzalema Mwanza (left) brings a solar suitcase to a health clinic.

BJ Allen can. BJ Allen is a UMD masters candidate in engineering management, and she recently received an honor and an assignment. She received the Mandela Washington Fellowship – Reciprocal Exchange and was invited to bring a solar energy team to Siavonga, Zambia.

BJ flew across continents to collaborate with Muzalema Mwanza, a Mandela Washington Fellow with experience in solar, rural communities, and mentoring young girls. Together they worked with the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) in the U.S., where BJ works, and a team in Mundulundulu Village, Siavonga in Zambia.

Lighting the Rooms

It started in fall 2018, when BJ brought solar suitcases to clinics Muzalema works with in Zambia.

Installing Solar Panels
A worker in Mundulundulu Village helps install a solar system.

Each solar suitcase includes a small solar panel with a battery used to power a light. These small portable systems work off-grid to light up the interior of maternal health facilities, improving health care delivery for mothers and newborns. They aren't finished. After this initial visit, BJ, along with RREAL, intends to come back to Zambia to create scalable community-based solar energy models.

It's a big task because it involves training workers in solar system installation, operations, maintenance, and business development. “Solar will not only provide a clean, reliable, and affordable source of electricity compared to costly fuels like kerosene, it will also provide opportunities for community empowerment through green jobs,” BJ says.

BJ Allen
BJ Allen

BJ received her undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from UMD and has over 15 years of experience in the solar industry. She was the project manager for RREAL’s Skip the Grid project, where she and her colleagues worked with the local people to build a solar microgrid for a hospital in Liberia.

In addition to her projects with RREAL, BJ’s work on her masters degree in engineering management from the Swenson College of Science and Engineering keeps her busy. She appreciates the immediate impact her classes have on her career.

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