A fantastic beginning to our work with WISE. Our work started with the participation of the OpenAccess Energy Summit held by the Waterloo Global Science Initiative (WGSI) at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. There was a multinational, multidisciplinary and multi-generational group of participants present at the summit to discuss and share their points about solutions to electricity provision for energy-poor communities.
We attended two lectures, one from William Kamkwamba and the other from Søren Hermansen. William Kamkwamba is an innovator and author now, and in his lecture, he told the audience his life story, a story of a 28-year-old young man who was born in a poor village in Malawi. His family relied mainly on farming, but unfortunately when he was 14, a serious drought struck his village, whose result was that he had to drop out of school. However, William still desired to continue his education, so he went to the school library frequently, where he could read a lot of books, although some of these books required readers to have a higher level of education than he had. A book called “Using Energy” drew William’s attention and equipped him with the idea of building a windmill. Due to the lack of money, he had to collect proper materials in a junkyard, bearing laughing and misunderstanding from others. Finally, he made a windmill out of scraps to power some appliances in his house, and his story was reported, which made him a local celebrity. And then he got invited to make a speech at TEDGlobal 2007 in Tanzania, as well as the opportunity to receive higher education in United States. In 2014, after his graduation, he returned to his village and built a solar-powered water pump that provided people with access to water for drinking and irrigation. William has continued his work to end energy poverty in Malawi.
The other lecture was given by Søren Hermansen, one of the winners of the Göteborg Award for Sustainable Development in 2009. Søren comes from a Danish island called Samsø, home to the world’s largest climate-neutral society, due to his efforts. In the lecture, he put more importance on organization structures, instead of solutions, because he believed there existed enough choices of renewable energy technologies, and the key was to help people identify their roles in communities, just like the question he gave in the speech-“how do you define yourself in your community”. In 1997, after Samsø won a contest of becoming self-sufficient in renewable energy by the Danish Ministry of Environment and Energy, Søren took immediate action to help the islanders change their views on green energy, like showing up at community or club meetings to show people the island’s potential for wind energy and the economic benefits. Based on his experience, his lecture showed the significance of thinking and acting locally.
Both of these are good examples of renewable energy changing people’s lives and their communities’ destiny, which gave us the motivation to start our work. We never know what effect the knowledge we have acquired could cause on our future, but it absolutely will.
Zhe Zhang is a Master’s Student in Cohort 4 of the Master of Development Practice program. Zhe’s background is in inorganic nonmetallic materials engineering. His current research interests include renewable energy application, sustainable cities (especially with low carbon emission).