AEP Installs Solar Internet Connection in Bolivia

December 06, 2000 by Jeff Shepard

Villagers of Porvenir, a remote village in Bolivia, have been communicating via the Internet since October 2000 on computers and a satellite connection powered by solar photovoltaic panels. This was made possible by a donation from American Electric Power (AEP, Columbus, OH) as well as the efforts of a dozen private and public partners.

Paul Loeffelman, AEP manager of external environmental affairs who coordinated the effort, said the partnership acquired all materials and transported and assembled them in Porvenir, a remote village in northeastern Bolivia. Porvenir is 400km from the nearest paved road and 650km from the nearest computer store for replacement parts.

“Our team believes the system we built in Porvenir is the world's first permanent solar-powered broadband Internet connection in a remote corner of the developing world," Loeffelman said.

He added, “Our very dedicated partners' pioneering effort accomplished this in fewer than 90 days. With the help of the Department of Energy, BP Amoco, New Visions Foundation, SolarQuest, Friends of Nature Foundation (FAN) in Bolivia, International Consortium on Religion and Ecology (ICORE), Foundation for Environmental Education and other team members, we accomplished the task in late October."

BPAmoco and the Foundation for Environmental Education provided financing for the equipment. Audipac, Bax Global and Challenge Air Cargo transported tons of equipment from around the U.S. to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where FAN loaded it into four-wheel-drive trucks for the two-day journey into the rain forest.

Forty-eight solar power panels from AEP's Wind and Solar Research Park at Fort Davis, Texas, were used by New Mexico State University under contract to AEP to engineer the power system. Trace Engineering donated the inverter. With funding from AEP and the New Visions Foundation, SolarQuest, FAN and ICORE designed and installed the STMI Wireless satellite system and taught the villagers how to use and maintain the technology, empowering them to communicate with the world.