Terry McInturff, J.D. a Rawls professor of practice and area coordinator for energy commerce, leads the annual World Energy Project (WEP) to Peru.
One-third of the world's population lives without electricity in secluded locations. The WEP brings sustainable energy to these communities while also giving Rawls students internship credit and a broader global perspective on energy and economic development issues. This project focuses on energy poverty faced in developing economies and serves as a counterbalance to the Global Energy Perspectives class taught in Europe which focuses on developed economies.
The WEP has Rawls Energy Commerce students installing solar lighting systems in developing communities. The WEP has partnered with Light Up the World (LUTW), a Canadian non-profit organization, which serves as a technical and logistical partner. In 2011, the WEP and LUTW established a base in Lima, Peru.
Students traveling with the program experience third-world living conditions in impoverished and often very remote environments.
"The WEP is a physically, mentally and sometimes emotionally challenging experience that leaves students memories they will never forget," McInturff said.
This summer students were fortunate to have two Peruvian WEP experiences. In June nine students traveled to the Amazon basin and participated in the installation of forty lighting systems in villages along the Amazon and Nanay rivers.
In August, the WEP returned to the Andean region of the country. Eleven Rawls students and McInturff installed 30 systems in a community called Cusibamba. The people of the community are descendants of the Incas and lack modern technology such as electricity or running water. Residents are shepherds raising alpaca and sheep. The high altitude of the area was tough to cope with for most students as Cusibamba sits 15,000 feet above sea level.
McInturff said this trip was the most physically challenging yet. Some homes in Cusibamba were located up to 10 miles away from where students stayed. After a journey on four-wheel vehicles, students carried supplies up to two miles to reach an installation site. The next installation site would be reached after a 30 to 45 minute hike away. Students hiked up to six miles a day at elevations sometimes exceeding 16,000 feet.
August is winter in Peru, and temperatures reached as low as 15 degrees at night. The students slept in tents and on sheep skins. Days were sunny and mild with temperatures in the upper 60's. The group took its own food and drinking water into the mountains.
With traditional sources of electricity unavailable in Cusibamba, the WEP provided affordable energy resources to this community. The project installed solar panels capable of lighting one home for 8-10 hours on a single charge. Residents can also operate radios and other direct current small appliances on the systems as well.
Students learn about the design of the systems in two days of training prior to panel installations. Several local residents are chosen for training in order to provide the community with ongoing technical support after the WEP leaves the community. This training, and the microfinance component, insures sustainability of the energy project.
Typically, members of the communities use up to 40 percent of their income on batteries and candles to light their homes. The panels help bring their energy and lighting cost down to about 25 percent of income.
The systems are paid for and owned by the residents in about 18 months. The money paid back to the community microfinance fund is then loaned to other community members for additional lighting projects. In this way the WEP's initial seed money grows for the benefit of more residents.
"You brought lights into our homes, but also into our hearts," the Cusibamba spokesman told the group. "You changed our lives."
McInturff said he considers this project to be more than a study abroad program. Few students have the opportunity for an international experience while also learning the importance of community service. This project helps students learn how critical energy is to the well-being of the world's population.
Texas Tech Energy Commerce and generous industry partners, this year the CH Foundation, funded the WEP initially. The dedication and hard work of Rawls students keep this project successful year after year. It is an expensive effort according to professor McInturff as the WEP has to raise approximately $50,000 annually to continue the WEP. Student costs are approximately $3,000 each to participate and get course credit.
"I think every student should have the opportunity to study abroad and money should not be an impediment," Mcinturff said.
To that end, he established the "Adopt-a-Panel" program where students can seek tax deductible contributions to the WEP. For a $200 donation, donors adopt a solar panel, which receives the name of the donor or that of a loved one or company sponsor, which is installed by the student. The student receives a $200 credit for trip costs for each panel adopted.
"There is no reason that finances should keep any student from participating," McInturff said, "as long as the student is willing to make the effort to seek support."