June 11, 2020

Student club advocates for equal access to sustainable energy

Light Up the World group wins 2020 Sustainability Award
Light up the World
Light Up the World at work installing solar panels in Peru. Adrian Reyes.

By 2030, the United Nations wants universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services. This is the essence of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #7: Affordable and Clean Energy. It may be 2020, yet 13 per cent of the global population still lacks access to modern electricity and three billion people rely on wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste for cooking and heating.

Most North Americans are fortunate to have easy access to reliable energy, but UCalgary student club Light Up the World recognized this wasn’t the case for everyone around the world — and set out to do something about it. The outcome? A community of 150 people in rural Peru now has safe, sustainable energy, leading the Light Up the World UCalgary team to win the 2020 Student Club Sustainability Award.

“This wasn’t just an experiential opportunity for students to travel somewhere,” says Clara Nguyen, former UCalgary Light Up the World president and Schulich School of Engineering student. “It was a student-led project with a real lasting impact.

Bringing sustainable energy to people creates significant opportunities in communication and technology.

The community selected for the project recognized the value of sustainable energy in their village. The UCalgary Light Up the World team worked directly with them so that they could design the solar energy system, install it and maintain it.

“The communities that we gave solar panels to have been dependent on inefficient lighting and energy sources such as kerosene, candles and one-time use batteries,” says Jenny Lee, UCalgary Light Up the World member and Schulich School of Engineering chemical engineering student. “Part of our job was to raise awareness about sustainability, help the communities transition to solar energy and equip them to use the system after we leave so they are self-sufficient. It’s a learning experience for everyone.”

By the end of the project, the Light Up the World student team felt like a domino effect was in place, and it was evident how grateful the local communities were to receive sustainable energy.

“It was incredible to see the impact a small group of students can achieve. There was a language barrier, but we understood the air of warmth and celebration from the community,” says Nguyen. “It’s so neat because we know this project has a sustainable impact that will continue to support the community.

"Sustainability is not doing something for someone else, but giving people the opportunity to do it for themselves. These communities are fully capable of maintaining these solar panel systems for many years.”

Connecting the Sustainable Development Goals

Experiencing how remote communities in Peru live was instrumental to the UCalgary Light Up the World club realizing that while they were providing clean energy, they were also helping solve other challenges. Households in the local community now have long-term access to electricity and can be more productive. Adults can do household tasks at night, allowing them to focus on their agricultural livelihoods during the day, and children can study at night. Community members will also be able to use refrigerators, educational technology and other electronic devices.

“It took one hour of travel through the mountains to reach the community,” says Joel Wong, 2020 UCalgary Light Up the World president and Schulich School of Engineering electrical engineering student. “The local people have minimal water facilities and live an agricultural lifestyle. To see how impactful the solar panels were on this community was eye opening.

"We knew that we were providing them with clean energy, but the system will also enhance educational, economic and infrastructure development opportunities. We were proud to play a part in helping them meet many of the SDGs.”

Looking to the future

While a project was planned for May 2020, it was put on hold due to COVID-19. Currently, the student club is working with the Canadian Light Up the World non-profit organization to set a project date for the 2020-2021 school year and confirm the project location and design. The club hopes to continue bringing electricity and opportunity to remote parts of the world by raising enough funds to make this an annual project.

Interested in getting involved with UCalgary’s Light Up the World? Contact lutwucalgary@gmail.com.