A chance to make a difference

Pupils, teachers and parents may have been easing themselves back into the school routine this week, but for the finalists competing for this year’s Zayed Future Energy Prize Global High School Prize, the start of the new term represents something more than a return to the school routine. This weekend, representatives from 14 schools from […]

Pupils, teachers and parents may have been easing themselves back into the school routine this week, but for the finalists competing for this year’s Zayed Future Energy Prize Global High School Prize, the start of the new term represents something more than a return to the school routine.

This weekend, representatives from 14 schools from five continents will travel to Abu Dhabi in anticipation of the prize’s award ceremony on Monday – part of the launch of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.

It may be a long way for an award ceremony – with pupils coming from regions as far away as rural Tasmania, the remote jungles of Colombia and the islands of the Melanesian Pacific – but there is a lot at stake.

As well as a week-long, all-expenses paid trip to Abu Dhabi, where the pupils will take part in a series of student-focused sustainability workshops and talks, there is also the prospect of winning US$100,000 (Dh367,295) in prize money.

The funds will enable the successful schools from each continent to implement a year-long environmental project that could transform the lives of their communities and industries.

The Manuel Picasuti High School in Bolivia is a case in point. The school – one of three finalists selected this year from the Americas – is in the remote, rural village of Guirayanoasa, 68 miles from the nearest town and 248 miles from the nearest city, Santa Cruz, in eastern Bolivia.

With no access to grid electricity, the school relies on diesel generators for power and the local community uses wax candles and wood for lighting and heating.

As part of its submission for the 2016 prize, Manuel Picasuti’s staff and students have put together a proposal to utilise 55-watt solar panels to bring light to the school. Pupils would be trained in installing the panels and the greater plan is to demonstrate to the villagers how they could use photovoltaics to provide electricity.

“This project will bring solar-powered electricity to a historic town and help us reduce the logging of our forests to create energy,” the school’s principal, Elio Sanchez Lizarraga, wrote in the application for the Zayed Future Energy Prize (ZFEP).

“Students will benefit by being able to study more hours (not just when it’s light), being able to access TV, radio, and the internet and, in short, being connected to the world.”

Nawal Al Hosany, director of the ZFEP and of sustainability at Masdar said the opportunity the competition provided was much bigger than funding. “It’s not about providing aid, it’s about providing development and economic opportunities and prosperity through projects and the impact has been phenomenal,” she said.

“Some of these kids travel from very rural areas, they may never have left their village, and they come to Abu Dhabi to understand what development can mean and they also meet other students from around the world.

“That means the impact isn’t just on students from villages and rural areas, it also has an impact on students from developed countries because they can come and meet students from very different parts of the world and start to understand how they can have a positive impact.”

The impact of the ZFEP Global High School Prize has even been felt in Abu Dhabi.

In 2013, the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Bangladeshi Islamia School (SKZBI) was not only the first winner in the award’s Asian category, but the only UAE-based institution to have secured the prize.

A rather ramshackle collection of buildings near the apron of Abu Dhabi’s Al Bateen executive airport, what the SKZBI lacks in terms of facilities it more than makes up for in terms of ambition, leadership and innovation, the qualities that won it the ZFEP Global High School award.

Thanks to the encouragement of its principal, Mir Anisul Hasan, the school established its first eco-club in 2002 and now has a dedicated classroom where up to 40 students, from age 9 to 18, meet to take part in experiments, workshops and talks.

“In 2009, we registered as a sustainable school with the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and ever since then we have been very active,” said Anita Saul, an English teacher at SKZBI who co-ordinates the school’s eco-club.

“The students monitor how much electricity we use, how much water we use and how much waste we are generating and then we started with conservation measures,” she said.

Thanks to a 15 per cent reduction in the school’s energy use, which was largely achieved by replacing its traditional incandescent bulbs with CFL low-energy light bulbs, and the creation of an eco-garden irrigated with wastewater harvested from the school’s mosque ablution taps, the school won Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) sustainability awards for its stewardship of energy and land.

It was at the EAD award ceremony that representatives from Masdar invited the school to enter its ZFEP Global High Schools Prize competition.

The school’s winning entry was a solar-panel project, backed up by an audit conducted by pupils.

“We never dreamed that this very small school could even apply for such a prize, let alone win,” Mrs Saul said.

The school spent Dh150,000 of the prize money installing solar panels that power all of its lights, fans and computers, which collectively consume 64 kWh.

The 48 panels run for 12 hours a day and reduce the school’s energy consumption by a further 15 per cent.

The school also included a second phase in its proposal – for a rooftop wind tower that would provide energy-free, passive cooling, and act as a demonstration model for its students.

“We thought that anybody could apply to put solar panels on their roof and wanted to do something more with our submission, something innovative,” said Mrs Saul, who has taught at the SKBZI for 13 years.

“That’s when we thought about wind towers.

“We thought it was a bit outlandish, you don’t really see them working any more, they are more like decorative items on villas and people are used to the comfort of AC, so we wrote to many people and then we saw a report in The National about a man called Ben Hughes.”

Dr Hughes is an award-winning mechanical engineer who was about to complete a three-year research project in the development of a new form of cooling for traditional wind towers.

The SKBZI school had found, by chance, the right man at the right time. The only problem was that Dr Hughes – an expert in natural ventilation whose PhD investigation was the adaptation of

traditional wind towers for use in contemporary educational and industrial environments– had just left his job at Dubai’s Heriot-Watt University to return to the UK.

“I’d just transferred to Leeds, but I still agreed to help them because I was developing a cooling wind tower and we were looking for somewhere to install a prototype that would allow us to complete some of our testing,” said the mechanical engineer, who is now reader in energy at the University of Sheffield in the UK.

“In the school’s application they said they wanted to use a traditional wind tower to provide ventilation to the school, but nobody was building new wind towers in the UAE.”

Luckily Dr Hughes had extensive experience of developing wind towers in the UK, where this centuries-old Middle Eastern technology is used extensively in the ventilation of schools, shopping malls and industrial units.

“They’re very popular in the schools market because there’s a lot of research that says that if you study in a classroom ventilated using fresh rather than conditioned air the students will perform better,” Dr Hughes said.

“But simply providing fresh air in and out using a wind tower is no longer an option [in hotter climates]. We needed to find a cooling system that was not going to use a lot of energy so we started looking at cooling pipes which is, again, another traditional technology.”

Thanks to funds from the ZFEP Global High Schools Prize, Dr Hughes was able to commission two full-scale prototype cooling wind towers that were built using sheet metal in the UK, assembled then shipped to the UAE.

One of the prototypes was installed at the American University of Ras Al Khaimah and the other was installed in the roof of a classroom at the SKBZI school in a ceremony, in October 2014, that was witnessed by Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, president of the Republic of Iceland.

“What we’ve been able to do by working with the school is to gather real-time data to see how much energy we can save and how much cooling we can provide,” the engineer said.

“We’re now at a stage where we have sufficient data to make us confident that the technology provides sufficient cooling and now we need to raise sufficient funding to allow us to install 22 wind towers across an entire block,” Dr Hughes said.

“We’re hoping to reduce the school’s air-conditioning loads by about 60-70 per cent.”

Rather than building the new prototypes from sheet metal, Dr Hughes hopes to use glass-reinforced plastic, which will not only reduce weight but will also allow them to be shipped in flat-pack kit form, which will make transportation much easier.

It is not weight, however, but funding that is the project’s stumbling block and the school is having to wait, patiently, for its experiment to finally come to fruition.

Dr Hughes estimates that it will require another Dh600,000 in materials and shipping to install the towers that could provide a new model for sustainable buildings.

“If it is successful it will be a unique milestone, but sometimes with science and invention you have to take risks,” said Mrs Saul, who remains optimistic.

“We hope to be the first zero-carbon school in the UAE. That is our aim. Then, hopefully, we can act as a model not just for other schools but for builders as well.”

nleech@thenational.ae

Source: uae news

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