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Science Wednesday: The Role for Science in International Development

2010 March 3

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

What’s that, you say? International development is best left to experts in policy and economics? Well, think again because I believe that engineers and scientists have an important role to play.

While it’s easy for most of us to take our roads, electricity, schools, police forces, and food supplies for granted, there are still billions of people around the globe for whom these are not yet a reality.

Think about how much people’s lives—their health, education, safety, and well-being—would improve if they had the same level of infrastructure many of us probably take for granted. Transportation is faster and safer with paved roads; electricity improves education and healthcare, which, in turn, improves quality of life and people’s productivity, feeding tax revenues to the government to use in further improving infrastructure.

It’s positive feedback, spiraling upwards if we could only get it started!

This is what motivates me and the rest of my team. Over the past six years, we have been working to improve energy infrastructure in developing countries by building a better option for distributed energy generation: one that is renewable (uses solar energy), affordable, and can be made entirely with local materials, skills—and people.

image of solar panelsThe technology, which we call a Solar ORC, uses a solar thermal co-generation technique to simultaneously provide electricity and hot water in volumes required by typical rural institutions such as schools and clinics, allowing them to improve services, stretch their budgets, and avoid environmental degradation due to burning of fossil fuels. At the same time, local fabrication and dissemination of the technology provides good jobs and spurs the local economy.

In conjunction with our partners in southern Africa, we have already installed and tested several prototype systems, optimized for construction in Lesotho. Our most recent achievement is the initiation of our first full-scale system installation at a rural health clinic in Lesotho in 2009.

This type of work is challenging but also immensely rewarding. With each installation I am directly involved in improving the quality of infrastructure—and quality of life—for local people.

So to all of the young scientists and engineers out there wondering how you can make an impact on the world—think outside of the box and consider whether international development might have some challenges in store for you.

About the Author: Amy Mueller is a Ph.D. candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a co-founder of STG International, a non-profit organization combining science and engineering with international development. STG’s work developing a novel solar energy technology is supported in part by an EPA People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) Award research grant.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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14 Responses leave one →
  1. armansyahardanis permalink
    March 3, 2010

    Infrastructure or economical growth, the first action ? Here, maybe symbiotic mutually, I meant, interdependence of both. The farmers bring their product to the town with high cost, because the road been damaged. Low benefit. But the government have not money to develop of road. So, in here, happened high cost economy, and result poor people, especially in the villages. The lost of symbiotic mutually !

  2. Shawn Paul Boik permalink
    March 3, 2010

    This is a great start in providing Good, Green, Jobs needed worldwide which we all need to fund with my debt free yogurt.

  3. David Mc permalink
    March 3, 2010

    If the city wants cheap food, they better fix your road.

  4. Jesús Torres Navarro permalink
    March 3, 2010

    Excelente idea, felicidades; soy mexicano, vivo en el Estado de Veracruz, pero nací en Monterrey N.L., veo que es muy poco lo que se hace en el campo del desarrollo de la ciencia y la tecnología de la energía limpia; pero las necesidades en ese sentido son muchas aquí en México, por ello les solicito que si es posible me hagan llegar más información sobre los apoyos y asociaciones que Ustedes están promoviendo para ver en qué podría yo, con el apoyo de Ustedes, ayudar a mi País como promotor de las nuevas alternativas de energía limpia, muchas gracias y que Dios los bendiga
    Creo que un problema global se debe de enfrentar de manera global

  5. ladislau permalink
    March 3, 2010

    In Austria is also begin the green electricity production by eolian generators.In a short time the science will be a winner..

  6. John permalink
    March 3, 2010


  7. Elizabeth Cooper permalink
    March 4, 2010

    South Africa is the first African country to host this Symposium since its inception four years ago. This pays tribute to the country’s vast biodiversity wealth and its technological research contributions towards the globally sustainable use of natural resources.

    The annual Science Symposium forms part of the GBIF’s ongoing global efforts to find ways of slowing down and eventually curbing the loss of biodiversity through long-term conservation and the sustainable use of biological biodiversity.

  8. Danny Maratas permalink
    March 4, 2010

    I hope that you will contact our government here in the Philippines, because some parts of our Country experience in power shortage due to el nino phenomenoum especially Mindanao areas because they are using hydro power plant to produce electricity

  9. Al Bannet permalink
    March 4, 2010

    The bigger the city grows the more difficult it is to feed it. But Indian cities continue to grow and the growing Indian population loves it, because “a growing economy is a healthy economy”. That would be true if the planet were growing also, but it isn’t. Instead it is shrinking with each volcano and earthquake. So, the truth is, a growing economy on a shrinking planet has a very limited future as the biosphere breaks down under the pressure of growing populations and their growing tons of waste and garbage, most of which is dumped in landfills and the ocean.

  10. Al Bannet permalink
    March 4, 2010

    There is a natural limit to economic growth, but humans are addicted to growing wealth and power. So, unless they wake up and smell the garbage, ecocide is inevitable.

  11. Anonymous permalink
    March 5, 2010

    Why is the US EPA funding an organization that only does projects in other countries. Being a little free with other people’s money, aren’t you?

  12. Zealous permalink
    March 7, 2010

    Science and Technology help a lot in development.

  13. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    March 7, 2010

    Helping developing countries to be more efficient at the individual home level is a great thing. The home solar power inihtiative will provide local people with a clean sourse of renewable energy that will help control one major problem–the deforestation of tropical rain forests for wood buring for fuel. There needs to be a program to do home building that will use green materials but not destroy local forests and wood lands for building constructionmaterial. Maybe big national and international corporations could be inlisted into this effort through international programs like or similar to the United Nations Water Mandate. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  14. grisell permalink
    March 31, 2010

    Por si no hay ningún hispanoparlante en el foro, aquí te van dos enlaces que espero que te sean útiles:

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