University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Jim Tinjum is biking 1,300 miles (2,000 kilometers) throughout the Upper Midwest to raise funds for Solar Para Niños, a project to install solar panels at an orphanage in Puerto Rico.

“This has been in the planning for more than 6 months … this opportunity to do the bike trip to the solar energy sites but now being able to combine it to the fundraiser for the Solar Para Ninos project in Puerto Rico,” Tinjum says. “It just adds to the multi-layers of this activity.”

The Puerto Rico Relief Fund of South Central Wisconsin, an ambitious relief effort responding to the need in Puerto Rico after the devastating Hurricane Maria, is a sponsor of this project.

“We are getting a significant amount of funds from the Puerto Rico Relief Fund,” Tinjum tells Madison365. “We’re also getting a $10,000 donation from an organization called Solar for Good. We have $20,000 in materials that are being donated from a local Madison company called SunPeak and they are donating some solar panels and equipment. I have about five corporate sponsors who are donating at least $2,000 to the project. It’s all adding up.”

They are halfway to their full goal. The 1,200-mile bike ride fundraiser will hopefully give it a boost. “Everything that is received in that Gofundme account will be transitioned directly to the Engineers Without Borders to implement this project,” Tinjum says.

The bike journey, known as #BiketheSun, will take Tinjum, of UW’s Department of Engineering Professional Development, to 50 solar energy sites across Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. Tinjum’s plan is to bike about 100 miles (160 kilometers) a day. Tinjum began his journey on Saturday morning.

“I will be on the road for two weeks – weather and body depending,” he says. “I will be covering 2,000 kilometers which is about 1,300 miles. It’s going to be quite a trek.

Tinjum is an avid biker. He bikes every day. And he says that he’s ready for this big trip. But what do you pack for a 1,300-mile trip?

“Quite a bit,” Tinjum laughs.

Has four panniers for his bike. “One of the rear panniers will have my clothing … really just two sets of bike clothes and one set of good clothes for restaurants and media events,” Tinjum says. “Two pairs of bike shoes, toiletries and a raincoat.

“In the other pannier, I’ll have a tent, blanket, and sleeping pads,” he adds. “In the front panniers – one is for my bike tools and the other is for electronics – computer, phone, chargers, go-pro camera. You add all that up and I’ll be carrying about 45 pounds of gear with me.”

It seems like a lot, but that’s really not much for two weeks. Tinjum wants to be as light as possible.

Along with bringing attention to solar energy, the purpose of #BiketheSun is to raise funds for Solar Para Niños, a solar installation project at a non-profit shelter in Puerto Rico for abused children.

Jim Tinjum and Carlos Velazquez discussing the plans for installation of a solar rooftop at the Hogar Albergue para Niños Jesús de Nazaret.

“Hogar Albergue para Niños Jesús de Nazaret is a non-profit shelter for physically abused children. It is a shelter that takes in and provides counseling and support services including housing 14 children that have been removed from their homes by the Department of Family,” Tinjum says. “These children range from infants to 11 years old and, unfortunately, they’ve been removed from their home because of physical of sexual abuse. This center is a non-profit and it provides rehabilitation and counseling as these children wait for adoption back into the community.”

Tinjum, and the UW-Madison chapter of Engineers without Borders, are going to install a 35-kilowatt solar system on their roofs including battery back-up. “With this installation, our goal is to completely eliminate their $1,000 a month electricity bill,” Tinjum says. “As you can imagine with a non-profit, by removing that significant amount of monthly expenses, they can put that into counseling and educational services for the children.

“That’s ultimately what this is all about,” adds Tinjum, whose fiance, Glorily Lopez, is an immigration attorney here in Madison and one of the community members who helped start the Puerto Rico Relief Fund-South Central Wisconsin. Lopez is originally from Puerto Rico and still has many friends and family living on the island.

Puerto Rico has the highest electricity rates in the U.S., according to Tinjum. “Even though the island has excellent solar resources, it produces over 95 percent of its electrical energy by burning imported natural gas, coal and oil – which are not only expensive, but environmentally unsustainable,” he says.

“With the installation and promotion of more renewable sources such as solar energy, institutions like the children’s shelter will substantially reduce their monthly energy bill, as well as move toward a more sustainable use of energy,” he adds.

The project will help provide long-term, sustainable relief after Hurricane Maria devastated the island last September.

“Talking to some of my colleagues in the Puerto Rico Fund that just came back from Puerto Rico, there are still areas in the mountains that have sporadic electricity – basically it’s still coming and going,” he says. “One of the great things about this project is with battery back-up, we are designing it so that they can be 72 hours off-grid doing all of their essential functions independent of the grid. There’s a very nice resiliency part of the project here.”

Posted by James Tinjum on Monday, July 30, 2018

But the project still needs a little more funds. That’s where they #BiketheSun comes in. Last summer, Tinjum embarked on a 2,000-km bike ride called #BiketheWind to raise awareness about wind energy, so he’s familiar with long trips triggered by good causes.

“I’m exceptionally excited about this ride because it basically combines all of my passions in one – bicycling, sustainability, working with engineering students, a worthwhile cause in Puerto Rico that really needs it,” he says. “I will be talking to a lot of my colleagues and alumni on the road so it will be a really nice outreach event that has solid goals. I’m super excited.”

To keep up with his journey, visit and follow #BiketheSun on social media. Click here to donate to the Solar Para Niños project fund.