EFFORTS TO STUDY AND PROTECT IMPERILED ECOSYSTEM
SAN FRANCISCO (April 19, 2011) — Over the past few weeks, Dr. Brian Fisher from the California Academy of Sciences has been working with a team of volunteers in Madagascar to connect Bay Area renewable energy innovation with critical conservation efforts in one of the most imperiled ecosystems on the planet. The team helped to install a new solar electric system at the Madagascar Biodiversity Center, which the Academy founded in 2004 to promote the understanding and preservation of Madagascar's unique plant and animal life. On April 20, just in time for Earth Day, the solar energy system will be commissioned, providing hope for a brighter energy future in Madagascar.
The new solar energy system is one of the largest in the country and will meet nearly all of the Madagascar Biodiversity Center’s electricity needs. San Jose’s SunPower Corporation supplied the high-efficiency panels for the 7.8-kilowatt (kW) system. Volunteers from SunPower and the San Francisco based non-profit Vote Solar partnered with a local solar company, Energie Technologie, to design and install the system on the Center’s roof.
“The solar array installation at the Madagascar Biodiversity Center will not only change how we work—it will also serve as a symbol for the greening of Madagascar,” said Dr. Fisher, chairman of the entomology department of the California Academy of Sciences and the executive director of the Madagascar Biodiversity Center. “Our long term goal is to challenge the green energy thinkers from the Bay Area to find solutions to the problems of energy use impacting deforestation in Madagascar.”
Located 200 miles off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, Madagascar is home to an astonishingly unique array of plant and animals. An estimated 80% of the island’s species are only found in Madagascar, including such biological rarities as massive “upside-down” baobab trees, brilliantly colored giant chameleons, and more than 72 types of lemurs. Unfortunately, Madagascar’s precious biodiversity is threatened by severe habitat loss. About 90% of the island’s natural habitat has already been destroyed, and deforestation continues at a significant rate. The remaining fraction holds some of the most unique and endangered ecosystems on the planet.
Dr. Fisher and the team he leads at the Madagascar Biodiversity Center are in a race against time to study and protect this biological hotspot. The Center has a particular focus on educating students from Madagascar in the sciences of systematics, ecology and conservation—empowering local students to protect their country’s rich biological heritage. But its work has been severely hampered by the region’s intermittent power supply.
The new solar energy system provides the reliable electricity that Fisher needs to be able to conduct his crucial work. In addition to saving the Center tens of thousands of dollars a year in lost equipment and productivity, the photovoltaic (PV) system furthers the Center’s larger environmental mission by reducing its reliance on polluting, fossil-fuel based electricity. The connection between energy and conservation is central to Dr. Fisher’s work in Madagascar, where a principal cause of deforestation is the production of charcoal for cooking fuel. Following Wednesday’s PV system commissioning festivities, Fisher and the volunteer team will travel southwest to Ranobe, a village on the front lines of this struggle between subsistence and conservation. There they will meet with local leaders to identify future PV system sites and explore sustainable solutions for meeting the village’s everyday energy needs.
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