EnergyPath 2012 Full of Inspiration
by Joanne Ivancic (Advanced Biofuels USA) EnergyPath, a project of the Sustainable Energy Fund, provides a unique conference/workshop event to promote implementation of sustainable energy in Pennsylvania, in the broadest sense. Founded in 1999 via a settlement approved by the Pennsylvania Public Utility commission during the state’s electric deregulation proceedings, this private nonprofit organization oversees substantial financial resources dedicated to “helping energy users make informed decisions and in financially supporting economically viable sustainable energy projects.”
As part of that commitment, EnergyPath organizers sponsored Advanced Biofuels USA as an exhibit participant and presenter. The conference still has a half day to go and we have already benefited from interactions with the more than 400 students, professional educators, dislocated workers and industry leaders; grateful to be among the 200 who received scholarships that include a pre-conference energy camp, books, room and board.
Using the first part of the What’s So Advanced About Advanced Biofuels PowerPoint presentation for the presentation and guiding attendees who visited the Advanced Biofuels USA booth to use the web site for academic and career research also gained the organization a number of new and exciting volunteers.
As is true of every opportunity for public interaction, we gained insights and understandings as well as distributed materials and information. Some conversations at the booth and during meals went on for an hour or more as people pulled up chairs to discuss complex questions about the roadblocks to commercialization of advanced biofuels, research they are engaged in at a variety of universities, and a desire of many to do work that has a socially beneficial dimension.
We weren’t sure what to expect on the evening bus trip to see the movie, YERT, Your Environmental Road Trip. A professor from Penn State attending with a group of students said he would gauge the value of the movie for a potential classroom showing by the length of time his students stayed at the theater. They were all there at the end.
A strange take on ecotourism, three intrepid travelers spend a year traveling to the 50 United States seeking out examples of people and projects that illustrate efforts to transition to a more sustainable way of life. Sometimes small, sometimes commercial scale; sometimes funny, sometimes sad enough to bring tears, this group, unlike Al Gore in Inconvenient Truth, moves beyond describing the problems to describing multiple efforts at solutions. From art and buildings made of trash and found objects to a man who, in the interest of keeping his land in the midst of mountaintop removal has suffered a wrecked marriage, ruined family life and attempts on his life. Every state offered some inspiration.
International inspiration came via keynote speaker William Kamkwamba of Malawi. With whiffs of ancient story-telling tradition, Kamkwamba recounted the famine of his childhood in 2001-2 that killed off many in his country, leaving his farming community devastated. With fields dry, his family could not afford to send him to school, so, in the tradition of a Malawian Abraham Lincoln, Kamkwamba found books to read and taught himself.
As a young child he took things apart to see how they worked and continued this exploration via books about physics and electricity. A book about windmills that could generate power for electricity or to pump water inspired him, at age 14, to use this knowledge to obtain water for irrigation to help grow food for his family.
Called crazy by people in the community, even his mother, he used objects he found at the dump and local trees to build a 15 foot tall windmill. He couldn’t find or afford the materials he needed to build a pump, so used the windmill to generate electricity. Neighbors flocked to watch as he joined the final wires as the wind began to blow and lighted small bulbs for the first time. Eventually, people lined up to see for themselves if this contraption really worked. They brought their cell phones to be charged. Not content to believe as they saw the charging indicated, they insisted that they wouldn’t believe it until the phones were fully charged. Ah, the 21st century!
Gaining notoriety via social media after a local article described his achievement, Kamkwamba eventually obtained financial support to become an engineering student at Dartmouth College and started a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching youth in his home village how to make windmills and, of serious importance to him, to maintain and repair the water pumps, now with solar elements added. He wrote his story, with Bryan Mealer, in a New York Times bestseller, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. And in a children’s version of the book.
Although Kamkwamba’s story is not one of biofuels development and use, it illustrates how using resources at hand, within the social structures and practices of each community, basic needs as defined by that community can be met. It breaks my heart to know that Advanced Biofuels USA doesn’t have resources to help in even the smallest way young entrepreneurs in the developed and developing countries who have brought us ideas which might be as valuable and workable as those of William Kamkwamba. (Watch Videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TP_9N7CW0PA, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QkNxt7MpWM&feature=endscreen&NR=1, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0J_G5EAeL3A&NR=1&feature=fvwrel)
As part of their educational endeavors, Sustainable Energy Fund also has instituted a Student Science Fair with young scientists and budding engineers presenting their poster board and research data on the last day of the EnergyPath week; with a luncheon awards program to recognize these inspirational youth.
The need to transition to a truly sustainable renewable future is so great. Sometimes progress toward that goal seems to move at a snail’s pace. At EnergyPath, we also gleaned inspiration from visiting with those transitioning to new careers dedicated to achieving these goals—both those making the change due to interruptions of a working life; and those looking optimistically at the beginning of their future. READ MORE (EnergyPath) and MORE (EnergyPath 2012 Conference) and MORE (Sustainable Energy Fund)