Technology to Target Energy Poverty and River Blindness on Agenda for Latest GHTC Conference

If you’re reading this article, illuminating a room is probably as easy for you as flipping a switch. But for 1.4 billion people on the planet, access to electricity is simply out of reach, says Nathan Johnson, an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering and Computing Systems at Arizona State University.


Nathan Johnson. Image Credit: ASME.

Nathan Johnson. Image Credit: ASME.



Johnson says that “energy poverty” is particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa. As a graduate student, he worked setting up solar battery charging stations in rural villages in Mali. He’ll share his experience creating sustainable off-grid power systems in a tutorial at the third annual IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference (GHTC), held in Silicon Valley, California, Oct. 20- 23.


More than 300 leaders in engineering, science and technology are expected at the event, up from 243 attendees, from 20 countries, at last year’s program in Seattle, Washington.


The GHTC is a unique opportunity for those working in the field of humanitarian technology to network, listen to keynote talks from international experts, and discuss some 177 technical papers, and access funding information for cutting-edge projects.


Keynote speakers for the event include Tala de los Santos, diagnostic group leader at global health innovator, PATH; Aydogan Ozan, leader of the bio- and nano-photonics laboratory at University of California, Los Angeles; and Nigel Snoad, product manager of Google Crisis Response.


Tala de los Santos will talk about her work developing diagnostic tools for neglected tropical diseases. She helped pioneer a new rapid test for river blindness, or onochocerciasis, a parasitic disease that afflicts a million people in Africa. If detected early, drugs can kill the worm that over time causes blindness. Without early treatment,


Dr. Tala de los Santos

Dr. Tala de los Santos. Image Credit: IEEE.



the worm can live up to 15 years, and that means an extended course of medicine, which controls the worm and prevents further damage. A new test developed by PATH requires just a single drop of blood and “can help provide the evidence for when the drug administration can be safely stopped,” says de los Santos.


Panel sessions at GHTC will cover a wide range of technology, with topics including:



  1. Innovating in Times of Disaster

  2. Thermoelectric Solutions for Charging Cellphones in Off-Grid locations

  3. Repair is Noble – Control of E-Waster

  4. Experts Working on how Technology Plays Critical Roles in Life in Africa

  5. EPICS: Engineering Projects in Community Service


In addition to posters and papers, several videos featuring projects from around the world will be screened at the 2013 GHTC, like the one below, shown at the 2012 conference.


Johnson, the tutorial leader, tells Earthzine he’s looking forward to sharing his work developing off-grid power solutions using HOMER (Hybrid Optimization Model for Electric Renewables) software, which helps users determine the appropriate composition and size for a power system.


“The main challenges in identifying a successful solution,” says Johnson, “are accurately identifying the power needs and requirements, comparing design concepts, developing a set of reconfigurable solutions that meet the unique constraints of diverse local cultural environmental, and economic constraints, and establishing ontinuous revenue streams that finance replacement parts and equipment.”


2013 GHTC is sponsored by IEEE Seattle Section, IEEE San Francisco Bay Area Council and IEEE Region 6.


For more information, or to register for 2013 GHTC, click here.