UAE students turn to the sun to help the poor

A group of Emirati students flew to Sri Lanka to help a poverty-stricken village gain access to renewable energy.

A group of Emirati students from Masdar Institute of Science and Technology flew to Negombo, a village in Sri Lanka, to install solar panels and fans in the homes of poor families. Courtesy Mohammed Al Musharrekh
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ABU DHABI // Emirati students have visited Sri Lanka to help a poverty-stricken village access renewable energy.
The Renewable Energy Ambassadors, from the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi, visited Negombo, on the west coast, last month.
"We focus on countries where there is not much electricity and where there are people with no source of income," said Mona Al Ali, a master's student in engineering systems and management.
"We knew there were a lot of poor villages in Sri Lanka with no electricity. It has several sources of renewable energy that are not used yet they have more than 40 per cent of households without electricity."
The shipment of the group's  equipment from Dubai was delayed but the 12 students managed to set up four solar panels and fans with lights on four houses that had no access to electricity from the grid or any other source.
"People there are in an isolated environment so they don't know much about technology," Ms Al Ali said. "But they were very happy and very welcoming."
The students studied the location and sun direction to identify the best tilt angle for fixing the solar panels, which have a three-year warranty. One of the panels powered three LED lights and an electric fan, and can generate power for up to eight hours.
"We set up everything ourselves and because the houses are very small, it covered their needs," Ms Al Ali said.
The power also helped residents to charge their phones at home.
"In that country, people can take up to one hour to charge their mobile because they have to go somewhere else to do it," said Mohammed Al Marzooqi, 24, a student in water and environment engineering. "By providing them with light, we provide electricity for small applications."
Some families were found living on the edge of a railway track or had lost their main breadwinner.
"Housing was really very old so you can imagine how low some of their income was," Ms Al Ali said. "Many of them also don't work, so we felt their feeling and discovered real life we didn't know about.
"We wanted to share this experience with the community."
The team hopes to reach hundreds of needy homes around the world.
"We need to make a difference because the knowledge we gain has to be returned to society in some way," Mr Al Marzooqi said.
"There are 1.2 billion people worldwide without electricity, so if nobody makes any effort, it will only get worse in the future."
The next potential target is likely to be Africa and the students hope to receive more government support from recipient countries.
"We want to survey areas that are not connected to the grid of electricity, find out how much electricity capacity they have, where we can save electricity and make sure nobody removes it," said Mousa Al Blooshi, an engineering systems and management student. "We felt we did something new instead of just giving people money - I don't like that. "
Ms Al Ali said: "Renewable energy is the best solution for people that have no income because it's environmentally friendly and countries like Sri Lanka have a high availability of sun.
"It is much easier and more helpful to install solar panels so they can save money, too. We are all one spirit that shares one noble and priceless goal."