Solar Powers Biodiversity Study in Madagascar


Scientists at the Madagascar Biodiversity Center have a new tool to help them study species that are being threatened by deforestation – reliable clean power. Volunteers have installed solar panels that prevent the loss of valuable research time during occasional power outages while simultaneously reducing the center’s carbon footprint.

The center, which was founded by Dr. Brian Fisher from the California Academy of Sciences in 2004, promotes the understanding and preservation of Madagascar’s plant and animal life. An estimated 80 percent of the species are unique to the island, which has suffered severe biodiversity loss in recent years due to deforestation.

But the doctoral students and researchers who collect samples in the field and bring them back to the Biodiversity Center have been hindered by power outages due to rainstorms, or when the power demand exceeds the capacity of a grid that is largely powered by diesel generators.

Volunteers from solar manufacturer SunPower of San Jose and from the non-profit Vote Solar initiative in San Francisco worked with solar company Energie Technologie to to make the long journey to install the 7.8 kilowatt system. The new solar energy system is one of the largest on the island and provides nearly all of the power for the Center. Small rooftop photovoltaic systems are instrumental in providing power in remote locations where there is no power grid.

While laws are in place to protect Madagascar’s forests, poachers routinely remove trees that are burned to make charcoal and sold to businesses for cooking fuel. In many places on the island, electric power to use for cooking is either too inconsistent or not available.

After installing the solar panels at the Center, Dr. Fisher and the volunteers went to the village of Ranobe to meet with civic leaders to discuss locations to install solar and other methods of protecting the fragile ecosystem. Education and cooperation with village leaders is seen as critical to slowing down the rate of biodiversity loss. An estimated 90 percent of the island’s natural habitat has been destroyed, and poachers continue to damage and remove protected species.

More than 100 villagers attended the meeting. Participants, often slow to implement change, showed an eagerness and willingness to protect the forest and explore new infrastructure to be used for healthcare and for a lighting system to secure protected areas from poachers.

Article by John Gartner, appearing courtesy the Matter Network.



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