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Maryam Rehman Headshot

We All Deserve Access To Reliable And Sustainable Energy

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On my trip to Pakistan in 2015, I really began to have a good understanding of what a blessing it is to have access to affordable and clean energy. As I recall, I sat laughing at the tweets that were showing up as I scrolled down the list of what was trending at the time.

Despite the hot weather outside the house, the air-conditioned room felt very refreshing, the low hum of the AC was calming as I casually scrolled through my e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook notifications. Within seconds, it all stopped. The air conditioner stopped, the lights went out, and I could no longer continue my notification check. I was off the grid, again.

It had actually become routine during my stay in Pakistan, and I wasn't surprised in the least when the power went out that day. This repetitive cycle of rotational load shedding (also known as rolling blackout and feeder rotation), is the norm in Pakistan, and that reality exists in many other nations including Egypt, Italy, Ghana, etc. Rotational load shedding is an intentionally engineered electrical power shutdown where electricity delivery is stopped for non-overlapping periods of time over different parts of the distribution region. It should not have to be this way.

Access to energy is a major factor in determining how much a person can achieve in a lifetime.

When I mentioned that I was off the grid again, it was a routine that I wouldn't see any harm from for the two months that I was there; but if this became a daily reality, I would be held back in many ways. As social media dominates not only our social lives, the Internet is a vital tool in providing virtually limitless access to information, and the latest news to keep us informed about the world around us.

Now, not having access to the Internet all the time will have its toll eventually. This results in the imbalance in development that occurs around the world. Rotational load shedding is only part of the problem with energy -- millions around the world are held back from many opportunities as a result of not being able to afford modern, clean energy. This is a reality in many developing countries, but can also be seen in developed countries.

The seventh Sustainable Development Goal is to "ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all."

Access to energy is a major factor in determining how much a person can achieve in a lifetime. When students don't have the access and are limited to the light of day to study, do their household chores, and keep up with the climatic conditions of their communities, it's evident that they won't be able to study as effectively as a student who does have the access to modern energy. As stated in a report released by the United Nations, one in five people still lacks access to modern electricity.

Evidently, this is an issue that must be resolved. Additionally, three billion people rely on wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste for cooking and heating. That is harmful to the environment, which leads us to the final statistic I have to share with you, energy is the dominant contributor to climate change, accounting for about 60 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

Access to reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all is a goal that can be achieved if people take the initiative to learn more about the problem, and be willing to make the transition to modern, cleaner energy. This is where I'd like to highlight the Solutions Project. The Solutions Project was founded by Mark Z. Jacobson, Marco Krapels, Josh Fox, and Mark Ruffalo, in 2011.

They believe that the world can make a transition to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050. Through academic research, they have put together resources (which can be downloaded for free), highlighting what the renewable energy "mix" looks like for 139 countries worldwide, and 50 U.S. States.

They gather this data based on the climate factors, locations, etc. of countries, and put together infographics describing what percentage of each renewable energy source they would need to use to make the transition. They believe the transition can be made, given that we already have most of the technology required -- what's left are the social and political aspects.

I wanted to point this initiative out because it's the perfect example of how countries can use their climate to their advantage and have a source of clean, sustainable energy. The Solutions Project is a 100 per cent campaign that raises awareness about the project, and gets everyone interested involved in making this vision a reality. (Here's a link to the campaign's page)

Nevertheless, that is a long-term solution. What about all the students that won't be able to the education they need to succeed in life before the transition is made by 2050? This is where I'd like to highlight a solution that is a personal favourite of mine, the Liter of Light. The Liter of Light was first created by Alfredo Moser and MIT students.This device functions similar to a deck prism and during the daytime, the water inside the bottle refracts sunlight.

litre of light
Illac Diaz displays the Liter of Light on April 24, 2013, at the Rizal Park in Manila, Philippines. Photo: AP Photo/Bullit Marquez

The Liter of Light is quite useful, as it ends up delivering about as much light as a 40-60 watt incandescent bulb, ultimately lighting up thousands of homes. This device turns the bottles that would have gone to waste into treasures for thousands of people. This not only reduces the amount of plastic water bottles going to waste, but it's also a source of energy that is easy to access. (You can read more here.)

I understand that this isn't an issue that will be resolved immediately, as is the reality with many of the other sustainable development goals. Yet, that is where the power of the Internet and social media comes in. If we spread the word and gain more awareness about these causes, then solutions can be found collectively, by individuals who have the expertise, and the understanding to be able to resolve these problems.

With this article, I hope that you not only became a bit more informed about the issue regarding sustainable energy but understand that solutions do exist and that you too, can be a part of making this goal a reality.

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