Raymond Larsen: Bringing Power to the People Who Need it Most

He will receive the 2015 IEEE Emberson Award for his humanitarian work

5 March 2015

Photo: IEEE

IEEE Life Fellow Ray Larsen helped develop these Sunblazer trailers, which brought solar power to Haiti in 2011 after it was devastated by an earthquake.

Underserved communities around the world are getting affordable and reliable electricity, thanks to volunteers like IEEE Life Fellow Raymond Larsen. He has used his engineering skills as well as his ability to organize IEEE volunteers all over the world to bring low-cost, renewable electricity to underserved areas. He’s also helping entrepreneurs in those areas set up utility companies so they can create jobs while bringing affordable energy to their neighborhood. 

For his humanitarian work, Larsen will be presented with the 2015 IEEE Richard M. Embersen Award at the annual IEEE Honors Ceremony, to be held in June in New York City. He is cited for “inspiring locally owned businesses to provide sustainable humanitarian benefits in underprivileged communities.”


Larsen is a special projects engineering manager at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford. In 2011 he helped found the IEEE Community Solutions Initiative, now known as IEEE Smart Village. It is a signature program of the IEEE Foundation, which provides funds for projects that can yield an immediate and broad impact, and are sustainable for the long term.

Smart Village members work with local entrepreneurs in several countries to help them set up micro-utilities, using renewable energy technology like solar panels to power nearby homes, businesses, and schools. Depending on resources, they could serve up to tens of thousands of customers, charging them a monthly fee comparable to the cost of kerosene and candles.

IEEE grants the initial investment for buying the equipment and provides mentoring and training. So far, the program has supplied electricity to some 15,000 people.


Smart Village originated as a project to help Haiti after the country was devastated by an earthquake in 2010. Larsen worked with a team of IEEE Power & Energy Society volunteers as well as industry professionals to design and develop six SunBlazer mobile generator stations. They were delivered in 2011 to Grand Goâve, a town of nearly 50,000 people in southern Haiti that was nearly destroyed by the earthquake.

Each station used solar cells to charge 80 or more portable battery kits, which can generate enough power to light two rooms for three to four days, charge cellphones, and run small appliances. Nine more stations have been set up in Haiti since 2011, and similar stations have been deployed in several countries including Cameroon and India.

Read about the 72 people and one organization that will receive IEEE medals and recognitions at the Honors Ceremony this year. You can also nominate a colleague for a 2016 IEEE medal or recognition. The deadline is 1 July.  

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