Technical training for off-grid energy
with Henry Louie
(KiloWatts for Humanity / University of Seattle)

We speak with Henry Louie, Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at University of Seattle, and author of 'Off-Grid Electrical Systems in Developing Countries'. We discuss the technical considerations of off-grid electrical systems, common pitfalls or misunderstandings in practical applications, his work with non-for-profit organisation 'KiloWatts for Humanity' and the importance of considering the potential negative impacts of well-meaning efforts.

Listen to us on Apple Podcast, Red Circle, Spotify, Stitcher or your favourite podcast streaming platform!

Show notes and related resources

Henry Louie: Personal page with links to textbook and teaching resources

Textbook, 'Off-Grid Electrical Systems for Developing Countries': available free for download by Springer until end of June

KiloWatts for Humanity: not-for-profit organisation website

Podcast Summary

We discuss the technical considerations of off-grid electrical systems, common pitfalls or misunderstandings in practical applications, his work with non-for-profit organisation 'KiloWatts for Humanity' and the importance of considering the potential negative impacts of well-meaning efforts.

Show notes

  • (1:30) Henry Louie's background, how he started working in the off-grid energy industry

  • (6:00) Background to the textbook: intended audience, why he wrote the textbook, and the need for a single textbook to pull together the key technologies and concepts for off-grid energy sector

  • (11:00) Typical sources of training for people working in the sector

  • (14:30) Other types of training events that Henry Louie has provided, and what he typically covers

  • (16:40) Factors to consider when selecting the generation source for off-grid systems (considering wind, diesel, solar etc.)

  • (22:50) Common misconceptions or misunderstandings encountered in the sector (over-engineering systems, over-reliance on surveys to estimate electricity load)

  • (29:20) His work with Kilowatts for Humanity (KWH); reasons they separated the non-profit from the university and the importance of ensuring long-term commitment to off-grid energy projects; the importance of using local installers; how to ensure sustainability of off-grid systems

  • (37:50) Quick introductions to some electrical concepts:

    • AC-DC coupling

    • Load factor

    • Grid tied inverters

    • Bypass diodes

  • (41:40) Process of writing the textbook

  • (44:50) Other considerations for off-grid energy systems, e.g. use of donated equipment, ensuring the use of local installer companies and the need for capacity building, the potential unintended consequences of good intentions.

  • (52:40) The choice of 'developing countries' for the title of his textbook

  • (55:30) How to access a copy of the textbook

  • (56:20) Where the name KWH came from

  • (57:15) Recommended books: Out of Poverty by Paul Polak; The Impact of Electricity: Development, Desires and Dilemmas by Tanja Winter

  • (59:15) Hopes for the off-grid sector in the next 5 years: the need to talk about e-waste; the ethics of switching off systems when payments are delayed.