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Teaching Impoverished Women Solar Panel EngineeringA business partnership between law firm Hogan Lovells and Barefoot College seeks to help women in the developing world rise out of poverty by offering programs in solar panel engineering. Barefoot College, founded in 1972, is a college built by and for the rural poor, whose main objective is “to demystify and decentralise technology and put new tools in the hands of the rural poor with a singular objective of spreading self-sufficiency and sustainability.” This initiative, conducted in partnership with Hogan Lovells, focuses on teaching impoverished women solar panel engineering. The objective is for these women to bring the technology back to their villages and provide a renewable light source to destitute rural areas.

The project estimates it will bring clean, renewable power to over 200,000 people by training 400 women at five centres in Latin America, Africa and the Pacific Islands. Since 2008, when the initiative started, the college estimates it has trained 1084 women, or ‘solar mamas’ as they call them, from 83 different countries in solar panel installation and maintenance. Hogan Lovells is now providing Barefoot with pro bono legal advice and financial backing to help with the most recent expansion of the program.

Although a majority of the women are illiterate, through sign language and color-coded textbooks they are taught how to create, install and maintain solar panels for their community. Not only does this help bring a renewable power source to thousands of destitute villages, but by teaching impoverished women solar panel engineering, it helps to develop gender equality in these regions. The ‘solar mamas’ become respected community advisers and hold a high position as the installers and maintainers of a village’s main power source.

Installing solar panels also brings an array of other benefits to poor, rural, areas. It replaces the use of toxic kerosene, allowing children to study at night with the use of lamps, and family incomes tend to rise, since they pay less than what they paid for kerosene, batteries, candles, etc. Barefoot estimates that it has replaced over 500 million litres of the highly toxic and flammable kerosene since the program started.

Barefoot College and its ‘solar mama’ initiative in cooperation with Hogan Lovells is an example of the innovative progress made by non-governmental institutions in the race to meet the U.N’s Sustainable Development Goals. By training impoverished women in solar panel engineering, Barefoot, in a single program, addresses seven of the 17 goals, including tackling poverty, promoting gender equality and developing affordable and clean energy. It is an example to be followed.

Alan Garcia-Ramos

Photo: Flickr

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On October 9, Glasgow University set a precedent for the UK, following suite with other parts of the world. The university announced that it will sell any of its shares invested in companies who produce fossil fuels. This translates to the withdrawal of £18 million of investments over the coming years.

David Newall, secretary of the university’s governing body, made a statement, “The university recognises the devastating impact that climate change may have on our planet, and the need for the world to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

A heavily involved student campaign of over 1300 students championed for these efforts. The campaign included rallies and even fake oil spills. The campaign is taking other active steps in reducing harm to the environment. For example, their carbon consumption will be significantly reduced.

The universal campaign is gaining support not only from Glasgow, but from 13 American universities who have also pledged to divest any support from fossil fuel companies. Fossil Free’s website provides a comprehensive list of various religious organizations, cities, counties, and universities in the U.S. who have also pledged to divest any investment in the fossil fuel industry.

In fact, Seattle, Washington, home of The Borgen Project, was the first U.S. city to do so. Their commitment took place near the end of 2012. Other universities who have done so include Stanford University and the University of Dayton in Ohio.

According to a Sept. article by The Guardian, even heirs to the Rockefeller oil fortune have chosen to divest. Thus $50 billion will be redirected from fossil fuel investments, sending a tremendous example to the rest of the world.

With less of a reliance on fossil fuels, the world can change its focus to safer, more efficient and more economical energy sources. The more the world learns to rely on solar and wind energy to power our cars and our homes, the more energy can be a resource for more of the global population.

People living in more poverty-stricken areas of the world do not necessarily have the funds for oil, but with the purchase or donation of a solar panel that could last a lifetime, they will finally have electricity opportunities that could in turn lead to a furthered education, a more literate population, healthier people and longer life spans.

So far, despite this activism, little effect has been seen on the trillion dollar franchise of the oil industry, but with increased participants and awareness this is likely to change. It’s promising that a majority of this change is beginning with the voices of our young people. And with people like those members of the Rockefeller foundation on board, these young people now have a means to make their influence known.

Kathleen Lee

Sources: BBC, Fossil Free, The Guardian
Photo: Flickr

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Google announced in late May that it is investing $12 million on a “96 megawatt solar photovoltaic plant in South Africa.” This plant is significant because it utilizes the climate of southern Africa to generate clean and renewable energy.

While South Africa is one of the continent’s more economically advanced countries, the utilization of solar panels in Africa could set an important trend for developing countries in the region. As Africa continues to progress and its standards of living rise, there will be a higher energy demand coming from Africans. Without the use of renewable sources, this higher energy use would result in an increase of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere, potentially propelling climate change.

The investment made by Google demonstrates that higher standards of living in Africa can be possible through the use of clean energy. The majority of the continent is well suited to obtain energy from solar panels since most areas in Africa have a high level of Global Horizontal Irradiation, a parameter which evaluates the solar energy potential of a particular region. The investment should also encourage other areas of the world, both developed and developing, to invest in renewable energy. The solar plant is expected to “generate enough power for 30,000 South African homes” without emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. While not all areas of the world have climates that are well-suited for the use of solar plants, other renewable resources, such as wind power, hydropower, and geothermal energy should be considered as ways to maintain a high standard of living without creating pollutants that can degrade the environment.

– Jordan Kline

Source: TechCrunch,SolarGis