June 16, 2014

Developing the right energy mix for fragile environments

University of Calgary SEDV faculty to co-sponsor world summit in the Galápagos Islands

A group of interdisciplinary faculty from the University of Calgary wants to help protect the delicate environment of the Galápagos Islands and other fragile environments around the world by developing a formula for a more sustainable energy mix.

The islands, a UNESCO World Heritage site west of Ecuador, attract many well-meaning organizations that support projects to supply energy for the islands’ small population, inadvertently causing more problems than they solve.

“For example, an organization donated wind turbines with good intentions but without really investigating if the technology is the right fit,” says Anil Mehrotra, director of the Sustainable Energy Development (SEDV) master’s degree program and the Centre for Environmental Engineering Research and Education (CEERE) at the University of Calgary. “And if the island inhabitants can’t get the energy they become used to, they will start using diesel generators or other similar means that have more environmental impact.”

With an aim to developing a better energy mix, SEDV faculty along with Universidad de San Francisco de Quito, Mount Royal University and the Inter-American Development Bank are sponsoring the Sustainability + Energy Mix + Fragile Environments World Summit in San Cristóbal during July 20-24.

“The summit will create a worldwide network of experts and it will bring out research ideas in terms of what we need to do,” says Mehrotra, professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Schulich School of Engineering. “We have to look at all available options and their sociological and technological impacts along with the economic and environmental aspects and come up with a policy in terms of what kind of energy mix should be provided and how.”

The summit, co-chaired by Julie Rowney of SEDV and the Haskayne School of Business, will include four case studies, a panel discussion, small team interactions and poster sessions, while providing ample opportunities for people who live on the islands to give input.

“In the Galápagos Islands, there are animal species that have existed for hundreds of thousands of years — this is where the theory of evolution was developed — it’s a very fragile environment and we want to be careful about what kind of sustainable energy mix we want to provide,” says Mehrotra.

Any formula developed for the Galápagos Islands could also be used in other fragile environments, such as Canada’s North or Mount Everest.