Supporting the Development of Solar Technologies in Uganda

Published by Dave Shelton on


In rural Uganda, where electrification is rare, villagers turn to dangerous and costly fuel sources like kerosene, wood, or diesel to provide light or electrical power via generators.  This ongoing expense is a burden that limits the ability of businesses to operate and students to study after the sun sets.  Solar power has the potential to make Ugandan village life safer and healthier while boosting productivity for local businesses and expanding educational opportunities for children.

However as Paola De Cecco knows, if new technologies are introduced to rural areas in developing countries without capable technicians to service them they will never take hold.  Paola is a Senior Lecturer at the Nsamizi Training Institute of Social Development in Uganda and teaches courses intended to provide locals with the technical and business skills to start businesses selling and servicing solar technologies in rural areas.


The electronics that Paola’s students were learning to build were put into casings made of wood.  Unfortunately, this ma

de the electronics look crude and unreliable which kept people from buying them.  Paola discovered that a local company called Village Energy shared both her goal of promoting a viable market for solar electronics and her problem of lack of interest in the finished products.  Village Energy had been casing their electronics in aluminum and experiencing the same skepticism about the quality of their products.

Paola and the founders of Village Energy decided to work together to solve this problem and realized that they could use 3D printers to produce casings that would be durable and look professional.  They purchased one 3D printer and with the help of ReAllocate, were donated two 3D printers from Printrbot.


However, they soon began to experience problems with the printers that required someone to attend to them throughout the long printing process.  They also found that they were having a hard time designing more complex pieces such as latches and hinges.  They realized that they needed help from experts who could teach them how to solve these problems and expand the scope of their 3D printing skills.Paola, along with two volunteers, Frank Kyaligaba and Suleiman, set about learning to use the 3D printers despite the fact that none of them had any formal mechanical engineering training.  They were initially successful and printed attractive casings for a solar device designed to provide light as well as charge a mobile phone.

Having already established a relationship with ReAllocate, Paola and Village Energy knew it could be a resource to provide just the kind of talent they needed.  ReAllocate acts as a marketplace for worthy causes and volunteers with unique skills to find each other and accomplish something truly meaningful together.

ReAllocate was able to connect the group in Uganda to Emi Watanabe and Andrew Maxwell-Parish.  Emi is a product designer and Andrew is a mechanical engineer, both with extensive 3D printing experience and both eager to harness their expertise for the greater good.

With assistance from ReAllocate, Emi and Andrew organized a successful crowdfunding campaign and raised the funds needed to provide hands-on help in Uganda.  On December 23, 2013 Emi and Andrew boarded flights carrying 3D printer replacement parts and prepared to spend three weeks providing Village Energy with the training they need.


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