All posts by Carrie Owens

Volunteer Testimonial: Pranav Mehrotra

Access to energy is one of the key necessities for development of mankind. I realized this first hand during the course of my engagement with IEEE’s Smart Village initiative.

My first interaction with IEEE Smart Village goes back to 2012 during my final year of Undergraduate Study at BITS Pilani. I was in touch with two young and enthusiastic Kiwi’s – Alex Podmore and Matthew Gibbons, volunteers with IEEE Smart Village (then Community Solutions Initiative) who were looking to partner with the ‘’Engineers Without Borders” India team which I was leading to pilot an energy access project in Goa, India. Little did I realize that while building those portable bicycle based charging stations for slums in Goa with them, I would one day be part of a team setting up the first DC Grid in the Himalaya region in 2014 as an IEEE Smart Village Ambassador.

Upon my graduation in 2013, I took up a full time assignment with National Instruments. I was always on the lookout for opportunities to volunteer with non-profits working in the energy access space to put my professional skills to use as a volunteer for making an impact. It was in 2014 when I got selected for a conference on Asian Development at Harvard University that IEEE Smart Village formally supported me through their Ambassador Program. Since then there has been no turning back. As an Ambassador I help IEEE Smart Village to achieve its vision of providing education and access to electricity to 50 million people by 2025.

One of my first tasks assigned by Co-Chairs Robin Podmore and Ray Larsen as an Ambassador, was to identify potential partners in India working on rural electrification. I came across Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE) through my professional network and was immediately able to see a synergy in the mission of IEEE Smart Village and Paras Loomba (Founder, GHE). GHE leverages the model of impact tourism to electrify villages and setup education bases in the Ladakh Region of India, one of the remotest regions of the world. I participated in the GHE 2014 expedition to setup the first DC Grid in the Himalayan region in Sumda Chenmo, a 1000 year old village located at an altitude of 14000ft. Being part of the expedition made me realize how we city dwellers take simple things like a light bulb for granted, it made me realize the development differential that exists across the world due to the lack of access to energy. In 2015, IEEE Smart Village also nominated me as a Key Speaker for a conference in Mumbai in the Microgrid and Micro-utilities Panel. The panel discussed leveraging micro-utilities and microgrids in education to empower the next generation by assuring them access to clean energy.

As an Ambassador, I continue to look for additional partners, assist existing partners for future projects and represent IEEE Smart Village at various global conferences. I have gained an incredible amount of experience through my volunteer work with IEEE Smart Village; for instance, I was able to hone my skills on how to effectively network and lobby for a social initiative, how to set up and conduct a classroom education program, and how to successfully represent a global organization in networking events effectively. The environment within the IEEE team is encouraging; I was treated as a professional, a friend, and a colleague working towards improving energy access to those strata of society that need it most. The executive team is also a team of very experienced mentors which assists our professional and personal growth. Working with IEEE Smart Village as an Ambassador has been an unparalleled experience in my life which has inspired me to continue traveling, learning and volunteering my time towards a greater social cause.

Article: Bridging the World’s Smart Cities and Smart Villages

DanWessnerBy: Dr. Dan Wessner, IEEE Smart Village

As the world’s cities strive in the next decades to live more efficiently and to somehow maintain or even improve standards of living while spreading resources among more city dwellers, might they have something to learn from their neighbors in the villages?

Reciprocal learning across both populations—together—calls for interdisciplinary and intercultural acumen and relations, empowering interconnected smart-city and smart-village residents, alike. IEEE Smart Village is building out precisely such an education platform. The idea is to define the good and smart things happening in the world’s smart villages and the good and smart things happening in the world’s smart cities, build links between these peoples that previously did not exist and provide a platform for innovation to flourish.

Teaching and Learning Together

 Since its organization in 2010, IEEE Smart Village ( has worked to empower off-grid communities through both development of sustainable local energy businesses that are owned and operated by local entrepreneurs and education. In cooperation with Regis University in Denver, Colorado, the IEEE Smart Village Development Practitioner Program launched in August 2015.

It’s a nine­ month program of study that includes five courses using push/pull, community-based global content from the IEEE Smart Village global classroom at the Posner Center for International Development in Denver. Every Monday night, a four-hour class gathers 24 students, a 50/50 mix of in-classroom participants and international distance-learning registrants. About a third are engineers; the other two-thirds are in development, health, education, agriculture, trafficking or some other practice.

Courses include “Models of Development Practice,” “Entry Points of Development,” “Skills for the Field,” “Going to Scale” and “Practicum,” which applies the lessons learned to the students’ specific development goals. “Engineering” isn’t anywhere in those course titles, but each of those courses has an engineering component as well as other disciplines, such as health, food and water security, anthropology, cultural linguistic knowledge, etc. In this way, the engineer is being drawn into a larger universe of cross-cutting skills and disciplines across different cultures and languages.

This initial IEEE Smart Village Development Practitioner Program pilot cohort is helping IEEE Smart Village test teaching methods. For example, one area of focus is trying to discern the right broadcast software and recording capabilities for replay and for further study and the right content to link these diverse realities so they can work on development solutions together. The goal is not to identify specific universal answers (e.g., here are practices that can foster sustainable living in every smart city and every smart village around the world); rather, IEEE Smart Village is looking for a universal process and teaching approach that diverse communities can apply to particular contexts.

In such ways, IEEE Smart Village’s education program is multi-directional and reciprocal across borders and barriers. Diverse communities in smart villages and smart cities teach and learn together, build case studies together, correct each other’s models together. And with a platform for sharing lessons learned and best practices, ideas begin to emerge.

For more information on the Master of Development Practice program, as offered by Regis University, visit


Dr. Dan Wessner, serves on the IEEE Smart Village board, and he works extensively among international NGOs committed to just and sustainable development. Dan is a focal point for IEEE Smart Village’s development of “Beyond the Light Bulb” educational opportunities in cooperation with international NGO partners through the Posner Center for International Development. This is an extension of Dan’s passion in education, stemming from his role as the chair and professor of politics at Regis University in Denver, Colorado.

Volunteer Testimonial: Nirupama Prakash Kumar

Niru_PictureRead about Niru’s experience as a volunteer with IEEE Smart Village as written in her owns words.

As I was finishing my MBA in the summer of 2013, I realized that my true interests were in renewable energy and social enterprise. However, I didn’t know how to marry the two interests. That is when I came across IEEE Smart Village (IEEE SV then Community Solutions Initiative). It was a perfect marriage of my two passionate interests and that is when I decided to volunteer for it.

My journey with IEEE SV began when Mike Wilson gave me the assignment of scanning all the Portable Battery Kit (PBK) manufactures in the world and coming up with not only a list of PBKs that would suit the IEEE SV SunBlazer product, but also requesting the manufacturers to send sample products to us. I ended up contacting more than 75 PBK manufacturers and more than two dozen of them sent me their PBK samples from around the world. Talking to so many manufacturers who were also deploying rural electrification solutions around the world changed me somewhere completely. I saw my world and my 24 hours of electricity based existence very different from then on.

GHTC 2013I was soon invited to come to GHTC 2013 in San Jose, California, to meet the whole team and I have never looked back since.

In February of 2014, an opportunity came to talk at a conference in Harvard University’s business school. The chairs of IEEE SV, Ray Larsen and Robin Podmore and the Sr. Program Manager Mike Wilson asked me to represent the program and also gave me the title of an ‘Ambassador’ of the program, a title I have cherished since. Later that year I attended a UN conference on Gender and Energy Access as an Ambassador for IEEE SV. I had started some initial research and work on IEEE SV entering India, but soon got a full time job in Nextera Energy. A full time job did not stop me from participating in IEEE SV though. I continued to work with IEEE SV in different formats – helping our Zambia partner with initial business plan work, talking at the IEEE SV workshop at GHTC 2014 etc. Then in October 2014, Robin asked me to conduct my own panel on Sustainable Microgrids at the Intellect 2015 conference in Mumbai, India. The panel had some really young speakers and was a big success. Later in 2015, I conducted the very first IEEE SV Ambassador workshop in Denver, CO, an event part of the larger IEEE SV program at the 2015 IEEE PES General Meeting. In September 2015, I spoke at a conference in Bangalore, India.

At work I was given a ‘Volunteer Spotlight’ on our website for my work with IEEE SV. This led to a lot of enquiries about the program from my colleagues. The enquiries grew to such an exciting level that we now have a whole dedicated group of volunteers for IEEE SV projects here in NextEra. The group is starting some very exciting work and I can’t wait to see it grow more.

About my journey with IEEE SV, which started 2.5 years ago, I can only say that it is one I see continuing for a long time, till we reach the goal set out by the mission of electrifying 50 million people in the next 10 years and beyond that. I have also gained so much from this experience – so many contacts, so much exposure and many many friends. As I have always said – by giving my time and effort to IEEE Smart Village, I have always gained more than I have ever given.


IEEE Smart Village Sub-Committee Leadership

DWDerek Welbourn: Marketing

Derek Welbourn is a major contributor to IEEE Smart Village’s unique business model, in which local people in off-grid communities build local electricity companies that utilize local resources to deliver local solutions at no additional cost to local buyers. First deployed in post-quake Haiti, this model has now been introduced to several African countries and has proven sustainable once established with one-time philanthropic seed funding and IEEE volunteer development support. Patrick has helped present on IEEE Smart Village at both the 2013 and 2014 IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference, as well as other events. He is chief executive officer of inhaus Surfaces Limited in Vancouver, British Columbia.


LeePatrick Lee: Finance

Patrick Lee is a member of the steering committee for IEEE Smart Village’s $10 million fundraising campaign. As vice president of major project controls for Sempra Energy, Patrick supports the Sempra Energy family of companies, providing oversight and governance for large construction projects, including standardizing processes, controls and reporting. Previously, Lee was senior vice president of customer services, innovation and business strategy for SoCalGas, was responsible for all SoCalGas customer services and programs, as well as strategic planning and development of new businesses and technologies. Prior to that, Lee oversaw public affairs, environmental, land services, engineering, procurement and construction of the $1.9 billion, 500-kilovolt Sunrise Powerlink transmission line – the largest capital infrastructure project in San Diego Gas and Electric’s history. Lee is a member of the California Council on Science and Technology and serves as a trustee on the California State Parks Foundation board, and a registered professional electrical engineer in California.

NoelSchulzNoel Schulz: Engagement

Dr. Noel Schulz received her B.S.E.E. and M.S.E.E. degrees from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in Blacksburg, Virginia, USA in 1988 and 1990, respectively. She received her Ph.D. in EE from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA in 1995. Become joining K-State, Dr. Schulz spent eight years at Mississippi State University (MSU) where she was the TVA Endowed Professor in Power Systems Engineering. She has a total of over 16 years of teaching experience including other schools such as Michigan Technological University, University of North Dakota and Virginia Tech.

She has been active in the IEEE Power & Energy Society serving as Secretary from 2004-2007, Treasurer from 2008-2009, President-Elect 2010-11, and President for 2012-2013. Dr. Schulz is a member of Eta Kappa Nu (Electrical Engineering Honorary Society), Tau Beta Pi (Engineering Honor Society), the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), the Society of Women Engineers and the National Society of Black Engineers. She served on the Board of Directors for ASEE from 2008-2010.


Testimonial from Paras Loomba in India

Paras Loomba, Founder, Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE)

A Recap and Update as of February 2016:

Late last year GHE received seed-funding for the installation of 150 watt and 250 watt based DC solar microgrid systems in five extremely remote off-grid villages of northern India, located in the high altitude Himalayan region of Ladakh. Prior to the winter season of 2015, the team electrified three villages with 1.5 KW of capacity serving 670 villagers. This spring, the final two communities will be provisioned with hardware serving an additional 850 himalayan lives.

When complete this project will not only provide light and modest power for the community, but is also part of an overall plan of social enterprise via revenue-generating tourist-trekker “home stay” lodging. For 2016, GHE plans to install micro-utility services in an additional 40 mountain villages and will approach IEEE Smart Village for program expansion to support another 7 villages, including the first IEEE Smart Village Education Centre at Zanskar and the creation of a microgrid servicing workshop in support of the local entrepreneurs.

Below is a personal account from Paras on his work in India.

Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE) is a social enterprise that was setup in 2013 and conducts annual expeditions in the Himalayas. GHE’s vision is to provide education and clean energy access to remote Himalayan communities. In 2014, IEEE Smart Village Ambassador Pranav Mehrotra who was part of our 2014 expedition, and was instrumental in setting up the IEEE Smart Village Knowledge Centre at GHE’s Third Pole Education Base in Leh, India. The setup of the IEEE Smart Village Knowledge Centre has had a profound impact on the students of Third Pole Education Base. The students through the Centre are now directly engaging with a world they previously could not touch, they now believe that with knowledge obtained, they can bring renewable energy solutions back to their home villages and participate in improving the lives of their families and friends. The IEEE Smart Village Knowledge Centre at the Third Pole Education Base has acted as a window to the world for children these remote areas.

This year in August as part of our GHE 2015 expedition, an international cast of volunteers, including IEEE member Arnold Sullivan, helped bring light for the first time to an ancient Himalayan village called Shingo, that is nestled in Hemis National Park in the high-elevation Rumbak Valley of Ladakh, This locale is in farthest northern India, where the Kuen Lun Mountains meet the Himalayas.

During GHE 2015, the picogrid material including batteries and Solar panels was transported on Horse back to the remote village of Shingo. Getting the equipment there required a score of volunteers from Denmark, Peru, Oman, Singapore, India, Germany, Kenya and the United States to trek for three days from the nearest motorable road, crossing 16,500-foot Gandala Pass en route. Our team spent the first night in the village Shingo in total darkness. The second day was spent by the team of volunteers surveying the village and setting up the three solar picogrids. It took the team just 7 hours to complete installation of LED lights in each and every room of each and every home of the village including setting up of LED street lights to grace this beautiful valley, where snow leopards still roam. Darkness gave way to shimmering light when the grids were switched on, bringing a fresh ray of hope in the lives of the villagers.

Rural, DC-powered picogrids provide an excellent, environmentally friendly alternative for off-grid communities with low capital investment and ease-of-setup. These systems can range from 100 watts (W) to 500 W in capacity and provide not only basic, LED-based lighting for rooms but also help light up the streets of the village through DC LED Solar street lights in addition to providing an entertainment/ community recreation source through a 21” DC LED HD TV.

The business model is equally flexible. These picogrids are community owned. Two people from the village are selected to not only maintain the grid but are also responsible for Home-Stays and their upkeep when trekkers visit the village. Both of these villagers are trained on grid maintenance and also keep an account of the monthly rental by the villagers towards grid maintenance and commission earned by the villager through Home-stay promoted through GHE’s Green Himalayan village booking portal.

The villagers use electricity not only for basic activities such as cooking, but the light provided to the villagers also helps the artisans of the village to engage in their handicraft activities due to extension of their working hours. The village Shingo is known for the Sheep wool based handicrafts.

The lights and amenities powered by the picogrid enable villagers to host foreign trekkers passing through Shingo, a vital rest stop for those headed up west towards Zanskar or north towards Markha Valley. Trekkers will be willing to pay extra to stay in these village homestays because of the value added facilities being provided. We estimate this will increase income to at least 20,000 rupees (about $306 USD) per family each tourist season from now onwards.

It may be difficult for outsiders to appreciate the potential revolution such systems could provide. India has the world’s second-largest population but 70 percent live in rural areas, most without any access to the country’s electric grid. Extending the grid to regions with low population and potentially low electric loads is capital intensive, time-consuming and, ultimately, may not make sense in terms of investment priorities. The falling cost of solar panels, the efficacy of a small, DC-based picogrid and ease-of-setup and use make our solution both “do-able” and increasingly popular.

In terms of design, these picogrids have a centralized storage and power generation capability. GHE has hosted training workshops for the villagers to help them understand the intricacies of the picogrid. The IEEE Smart Village Initiative has supported our mission in the Himalayas to provide remote off grid communities with opportunities that they previously had no access to.