His retirement is spent bringing solar power to communities in Africa

“They thank you in a way you can’t explain. That is the gratification of it.”
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Posted at 11:58 AM, Dec 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-16 18:39:03-05

CHESTERFIELD, Va. — Phil Powell is getting a charge out of retirement. The self-avowed "geek" who worked as an electrical engineer for Dominion for 40 years still likes to tinker.

Since retiring in 2016, the golden years allow Powell to spend more time on his hobbies in his Chesterfield home.

“I tended to love to build things ever since I was a kid,” explained Powell.

These days the 68-year-old dedicates most of his energy during the season of giving and beyond to a place halfway around the world.

Fourteen years ago, Powell’s daughter told him about Engineers Without Borders (EWB).

“It makes up the majority of my motivation to get up in the morning and do things,” said Powell.

The nonprofit EWB builds a better world through infrastructure projects that help people meet their basic human needs.

“It became the focus of my retirement and the happiness of retirement,” Powell said.

In 2009, he traveled to Uganda in Africa packing decades of experience. On the ground, he started sharing his wealth of knowledge in solar power. It would be his first of many journeys.

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Powell returns to the country two to three times every year. The engineer has volunteered with Engineers Without Borders in three different countries.

“The primary ones that I’ve worked with are Kenya, Uganda and Ghana,” said Powell.

He helps build and install solar power devices at elementary schools. “We have probably eight school projects where we put up maybe three or four kilowatts of panels on a school roof."

During his more than 20 trips, Powell has worked with other professional engineers and students from Virginia Tech.

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“A large part of Uganda is not in reach of a utility system,” Powell explained.

He has also helped equip medical centers and orphanages with electricity.

“What’s most satisfying is that the system we put in in 2009 is still working today,” he said.

His efforts even help farmers generate water to grow their crops year round.

“What we’re talking about here is how to hook up the pump,” said Powell. “They live to a large extent in these areas garden to table. So if this doesn’t work, people get hungry.”

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Powell considers his excursions to Africa his calling. “They thank you in a way you can’t explain,” he said. “That is the gratification of it.”

He is leaving the world a better place by staying plugged in.

“Some of them are just like family members,” said Powell. “So you really get attached to that."


Phil Powell, the engineer with a current of kindness running through him.

“I really encourage people to find something they really believe in to do and stay focused on it. It will change your mind and your attitude and the way you feel about life in general.”

In addition to volunteering, Phil and his wife Liz sponsor a child and help pay for her schooling. Phil will be returning to Uganda in March.

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