Jan. 8, 2019

Power Hub energizes West African village with help from sustainability master's students

Anyone incorporating experiential learning in their student work encouraged to apply for 2019 Sustainability Awards
Artist’s rendition: Inside the Power Hub. Photo by Ran Zhang, UCalgary architectural student
Artist’s rendition: Inside the Power Hub. Photo by Ran Zhang, UCalgary architectural student

Should you apply for the 2019 Sustainability Awards? Winners from the 2018 awards ceremony certainly think so, especially recipients of the Community as a Learning Partner Project Award.

Last year, a group of students pursuing their master's in UCalgary’s Sustainable Energy Development (SEDV) program submitted a nomination for their project: Solar Village of the Future - Sustainable District "Power Hub" in Burkina Faso, Africa. The project, which helped equip a village in West Africa with a solar power station, earned them a UCalgary Sustainability Award.

“Submitting a nomination for the UCalgary Sustainability Awards is pretty simple,” says Dr. Irene Herremans, PhD, professor, Haskayne School of Business and Sustainable Energy Development program. “Questions were pretty straightforward and it didn’t require a tonne of time, and that’s important because everyone’s busy. I would encourage others to apply.”

The Sustainability Awards gave the Solar Village of the Future group the opportunity to showcase their impact, creativity and collaboration, not to mention the importance of experiential learning on campus.

“I truly believe that experiential learning is the way to go,” says Herremans. “I think students get comfortable sitting in their chairs and learning passively. Active learning is real learning, providing a greater influence for a longer period of time.”

Thanks to this experiential learning aspect, the Solar Village of the Future group expects to have a tremendous impact on Pâ Village in Burkina Faso. Together with Innovate Calgary and local not-for-profit The Strongest Oak Foundation (TSO), SEDV students Lucas Barr, Andrea Cosgrove, Spencer Illingworth, Tinu Chineme, Cinthya Ferrer, Faisal Khan and Humaira Waqar helped develop a containerized 6.5 kW solar energy solution called the Power Hub, providing renewable and affordable energy to Pâ villagers so they can pursue economic opportunities and increase their quality of life — a major achievement in a developing country where almost 97 per cent of the rural population is not connected to the national grid.

The Power Hub will enable a local women’s shea butter co-operative called Sougrinooma to process grains and shea nuts with solar milling machines (built in Spain), provide high-speed Internet access to villagers and travellers via Pâ’s first Wi-Fi hotspot, recharge batteries and mobile devices, sell/lease solar lanterns, and more.

“Prior to construction, one of the SEDV students joined forces with the University of Ouagadougou to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment with key village stakeholders.” says Stace Wills, director, New Ventures, Innovate Calgary. “We learned that not only did Sougrinooma members value the potential increase in productivity and revenues, but they also wanted more time raising their kids and helping them with homework and doing household chores. The Power Hub and the solar milling machines are able to give them that.”

A year after these SEDV students won a Sustainability Award, some are still working on the project (one as a volunteer with TSO and the other as an intern with Innovate Calgary) so they can see the project to completion. In late December, the Power Hub was successfully installed in Pâ Village.

“What’s neat is some of the students are still working as volunteers and are still interested in the project. That’s the best part of experiential learning — it’s long lasting,” says Herremans. “Experiential learning is different — it isn’t just sitting in a classroom, taking exams and then selling the books at the end of the semester, and going on to the next class.”

Both Wills and Herremans encourage anyone incorporating experiential learning into their student work to apply for the 2019 Sustainability Awards, specifically under the new nomination category: the Experiential Learning Project in Sustainability Award.

“I always like to see the students get awards for what they do and get recognition because it means a lot to them,” says Herremans. “It’s good motivation for our students to work a little bit harder.”

There’s still time to apply for the 2019 Sustainability Awards. Nominations are open until midnight Jan. 20, 2019. Self-nominations are accepted and student winners receive monetary awards. Check out the Sustainability Awards website for more details.

Thanks to all the individuals who made the Solar Village of the Future possible: Lucas Barr, Andrea Cosgrove, Spencer Illingworth, Tinu Chineme, Cinthya Ferrer, Faisal Khan, Humaira Waqar, Ran Zhang, Dr. David Wood, PhD, Dr. Ed Nowicki, PhD, Dr. David Ince, PhD, Dr. Irene M. Herremans, PhD, Stace Wills (Innovate Calgary and TSO), Puneet Mannan (Innovate Calgary), Seydou Kinda, Dave Kelly (CEO, SkyFire Energy), Ross Keating (co-founder BluEarth Renewables), Terry Booth (partner, RSM Canada), Steve O'Gorman (president, STAR EcoWorks Energy Systems).