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Masdar Institute Students Change Lives in Asia and Africa with Sustainability Lessons

Energy and Poverty Solutions (EAPS) Course Offers Students Opportunity to Contribute to Communities through Sustainable Innovations


Abu Dhabi-UAE 27 November, 2012:
Masdar Institute of Science and Technology is an independent, research-driven graduate-level university focused on advanced energy and sustainable technologies. The Abu Dhabi-based institution serves as a key pillar of innovation and human capital, while remaining fundamental to Masdar’s core objectives of developing a knowledge-economy and finding solutions to humanity’s toughest challenges such as climate change.

Even though knowledge transfer regarding sustainability and clean energy research are the core focus areas, Masdar Institute continues to take its lessons in sustainability beyond the GCC region to places in Asia and Africa for the benefit of the wider community. In short, Masdar Institute’s sustainability efforts also include addressing and improving sustainable human development, especially through its Energy and Poverty Solutions (EAPS) course, offered annually.

Over the past three years, students of the Energy and Poverty Solutions (EAPS) course, taught by Dr. Scott Kennedy, Dean of Research, Masdar Institute, under the Engineering Systems and Management program, have visited rural communities in northern India, Sabah in Malaysia, and Lusaka, in Zambia. The visits offered the students first-hand experience about the extent of time and effort actually spent by the community to tackle even everyday challenges.

Dr Fred Moavenzadeh, President, Masdar Institute, said: “Masdar Institute remains a pioneer in imparting knowledge and guiding creative minds in sustainable innovation. At the same time, with the support of our country’s leadership, our students continue to work with communities across several regions on sustainable projects. Through such active participation, Masdar Institute serves its objective of contributing to sustainable community development.”

The EAPS Course focuses on the design of robust, low-cost energy systems including micro-hydro, solar, wind turbine generators, and biomass cooking fuels, for providing power and heat. It is an elective course in which students address the multi-faceted problem of poverty and all its associated issues, while promoting improved energy access to alleviate poverty.

As part of the course, student teams embark on a semester-long project, focusing on and investigating a chosen aspect of poverty and sustainable development. The course seeks to provide students with a holistic understanding of the complex issues faced by developing communities, their associated energy needs and how this relates to human and economic development.

Subject matter in the past has ranged from issues associated with the link between education and poverty, to the socio-technical aspects of operating a rice-husk fueled, gasifier-powered, rural micro-grid. Some past projects have also included improved cooking stoves, solar panel feasibility studies, water purification and Power Line Communication (PLC) for micro-grids powered by renewable sources of energy.

The culmination of the course’s learning process involves a week-long trip to a developing area that serves as a fieldwork component to the students’ projects. Masdar Institute students work closely on the ground with a local organization in order to enhance understanding and close the gap between human development theory and real-world experience.

Some of the projects undertaken by the students include the enhancement of a micro-hydropower energy system for a rural village in Borneo, an analysis of water supply options for rural areas in Somaliland, and an assessment of energy needs and opportunities for a residential compound near Lusaka, Zambia.

This year, student teams traveled to Varanasi and Patna in India for projects on gasification of rice husk for power generation, increasing access to primary education and health care, and community development through micro-credit and self-help groups.

Dr Scott Kennedy said: “A first step into addressing issues related to poverty and development is to interact with the communities one is seeking to benefit on equal terms.  The field trips to India and other sites have offered students a glimpse into the lives of the poor – their challenges and vulnerabilities, as well as their assets and talents. Sustainable development in this context can only be achieved by building capacity and strengthening institutions. The process of designing and deploying energy, education or healthcare technologies and infrastructure therefore becomes simply a platform for the more fundamental goal of building human capacity.”

Serving as a key pillar of innovation and human capital, Masdar Institute remains fundamental to Masdar’s core objectives of developing Abu Dhabi’s knowledge economy and finding solutions to humanity’s toughest challenges such as climate change.

Established as an on-going collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Masdar Institute integrates theory and practice to incubate a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, working to develop the critical thinkers and leaders of tomorrow. With its world-class faculty and top-tier students, the Institute is committed to finding solutions to the challenges of clean energy and climate change through education and research.

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