Meet Our Supporters
The adult Sunday School class at the 1st Presbyterian Church in Auburn, Alabama wanted to thank their teacher, Dr. Henry Brandhorst, for his service by making a donation in his name to a non-profit. When they asked him where it should go, he designated the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF). Curious about why Dr. Brandhorst chose SELF, we reached out to get better acquainted with him. We learned that he is a highly recognized pioneer in the field of photovoltaics. He began his career as a space photovoltaics researcher with NASA, and today, he runs Carbon Free Energy, an organization that promotes renewable energies in Alabama.
When he started at NASA, Dr. Brandhorst developed a new type of thin film solar cell for use in space. This device was not used in space for a number of reasons, so his efforts turned to improving the performance of silicon solar cells for use on earth. The energy crisis in the 1970s led his group in NASA to implement the first earth solar systems in energy-impoverished communities. The solar systems powered home lighting, sewing machines, water pumping, grain grinding, and refrigerators in previously un-electrified rural communities. “With the new solar installations, children could read at night, and women could expand their sewing businesses with mechanized sewing options,” Dr. Brandhorst explained. “One thing we learned was that putting in a solar power system can dramatically change the lifestyle in a village.”
“The reason that I love photovoltaics so much is that you take a free fuel – sunshine – and make electricity… The revolution has been going for 50 years. In the next 50, we’ll see even greater use of photovoltaics. There are too many advantages for it not to happen,” he explains. “The work that SELF has been doing is making a significant impact. That is why I chose it as the recipient for my donation.”
Dr. Brandhorst has published over 200 scientific papers in the field of photovoltaics, and holds numerous patents in the field, which can be viewed here:
It may surprise you to learn that there is a group of very young philanthropists who are intent on changing the world. SELF is fortunate to have been selected for support by one of them. Her name is Ruthie, and she is 13 years old. Recently celebrating her Bat Mitzvah, she asked her guests to forego the traditional largesse that comes with the event. Instead, she suggested they make a donation to SELF to fight energy poverty. The resulting support was substantial. We decided to check in with Ruthie to find out what motivated her generosity.
SELF: What inspired you to have gifts sent to SELF?
Ruthie: I wanted to do something to help fight poverty and address climate change at the same time. I believe that solar panels are really awesome. So, giving panels to people who don’t have power would be a really good cause. I told people that’s what I wanted to do, and they helped me find the SELF.
SELF: How did your guests respond?
Ruthie: I had a bunch of people write letters to me saying they liked what SELF was doing and that they were going to donate. And, they did!
SELF: What advice would you give other kids if they want their gifts to go to a meaningful cause?
Ruthie: I really liked the solar energy cause, but everybody is different. I think they should choose something that they believe in and that helps other people.
SELF: Do you think that people your age are going to be able to change the world?
Ruthie: Yes, I think we understand how important it is to use our resources better. For instance, we know that solar is not only good for people, but for the planet. Let’s use the resources we have in a really good way.
SELF: How did you learn about energy poverty?
Ruthie: At my school, which is very into helping us learn about issues, we turned off all the lights and sat and worked in the dark. It made us appreciate what we have. It made me want to do something that could make a difference.
Thank you, Ruthie!