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Sun-Powered Medicine

Installation & Connection Of Panels Top Of Roof

In 2007, Chip Pickering took a trip with Engineering Ministries International to repair the power system at Phebe Hospital in Liberia. As he was leaving, the Minister of Health, Dr. Walter Gwenigale, asked Pickering if he would consider developing a program to bring solar power to Liberia’s health clinics.

“They said that if we could bring power to the clinics, it would provide a 20% improvement in the infant mortality rate, notwithstanding all of the other treatment benefits of having modern technologies associated with it,” Pickering says.

Over 80% of Liberia’s public health facilities were destroyed in the 14-year civil war that had ended four years prior. According to the UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation, for every 1,000 babies born in Liberia in 2007, about 80 died before their first birthday—an infant mortality rate 12 times higher than that in the United States. 

Pickering developed a pilot program and began installing solar panels in clinics and orphanages. In 2012, he founded Pickering Energy Solutions, a company that installs solar panel systems in the US and provides a framework for providing free solar energy at facilities in Liberia.

BBF Global Relief began its partnership with Pickering Energy Solutions in 2015 by funding a solar array at a health clinic in Sanoyea, a town in Bong County. Since then, BBF has collaborated with Pickering Energy Solutions to install a total of 53 solar arrays in hospitals and medical clinics across 7 of Liberia’s 15 counties. The impact has saved hospitals, medical clinics and schools more than $125,000 in electricity costs and prevented more than 650 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from being released into the air.

More notable are the ways the solar installations have improved Liberia’s healthcare system. Using energy from solar panels, hospitals and medical clinics can power refrigerators that keep vaccines at proper temperatures and lights in emergency rooms and operating rooms, allowing doctors to work overnight. Nurses can use fetal doppler meters to determine an infant’s position immediately prior to birth, helping them determine the best course of action during delivery.

Over the past several years, BBF has helped Pickering shift the program’s approach to focus less on installing solar panels at new sites and more on maintaining and repairing the systems are already in place.

“You can put a system in, but unless you have people that are trained to understand how it operates and have funding for the replacement components and things like that, then it’s not going to continue to work,” Pickering says. 

Pickering has made the solar program in Liberia more sustainable by training a team of 10 people in Liberia who manage the installations and repairs. He has also encouraged his workers to start their own solar companies.

Funding from BBF continues to support Pickering’s program by supplying battery replacements and spare parts in addition to funding new clinics where needed.

The Pickering Energy Solutions team and staff members at Kiantahun Community Clinic pose for a photo outside the Lofa County clinic.
| Photo courtesy of Pickering Energy Solutions
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