Students enter solar energy idea in Google’s $10-million contest

A group of students at York are hoping their solar electricity project has what it takes to win part of a $10-million prize through Google’s Project 10100 (pronounced Project 10 to the 100th) contest designed to elicit ideas on how to change the world by helping as many people as possible. The public gets to vote on the top 100 ideas starting Jan. 27 and the students hope York people will rally together and vote for their project.

The York idea is one of over 100,000 ideas submitted to the contest. See the YouTube video about the York entry below. The project is the vision of York environmental studies Professor Jose Etcheverry and is being developed by master of environmental studies students Roberto Garcia, Nadeem Anwar, Linda O’Malley, Jennifer Taylor, Lily Riahi, Sari Mecklinger, Ari Pottens and Peter Litster.

The Renewable Energy Innovation Project at York University would involve installing a solar photovoltaic array on the roof of the Health, Nursing & Environmental Studies Building to generate green electricity. The plan is to sell the roughly 120 kilowatts/hour of electricity generated by the array to the grid under the Ontario Power Authority’s (OPA) Standard Offer Program, a 20-year power purchase agreement that pays 42 cents per kilowatt hour. Those funds would then go toward possible student scholarships or other greening projects at York, says Litster, who is spearheading the project with fellow student Nadeem Anwar as part of their work-for-credit course.


 Above: YouTube video outlining the Renewable Energy Innovation Project at York U

“Student scholarships could facilitate collaborative exchanges for York students at renewable energy centres in Denmark and Germany, the world leaders in renewable energy policy and installed capacity, strengthening York’s position as a leading institution for studies in renewable energy in Canada,” says Litster. Bringing world-class knowledge and experience from Europe to one of Canada’s largest universities would also provide an opportunity for students around the world to learn about green energy at York. They could then teach people in their home communities, which would create more opportunities for green energy generation and jobs.

"The OPA’s Standard Offer Program is modelled on the policy that set off a green economic boom in Germany around 2004. However, some improvements are necessary to create an economic stimulus on the scale of Germany’s, specifically the price paid to renewable energy generators," says Litster. "By demonstrating a commitment to installing renewable energy projects, this initiative is intended to help sway Ontario policy-makers to improve their support for renewables."

In addition, Litster says renewable energy projects are labour intensive, creating more jobs per installed megawatt than nuclear- or fossil-fuelled power plants. The York solar project could spur job creation in all aspects of the industry from equipment manufacturing to system design and installation at this critical time for the Ontario economy. The project would also provide an opportunity for York students to get hands-on experience with the hardware and installation procedures for a solar photovoltaic array.

Right: Nadeem Anwar and Peter Litster

A selection of Google employees will review the ideas and select the top 100. The public then votes, whittling the list down to 20. Google’s advisory board will review the finalists and decide on up to five ideas that will share in $10 million worth of funding. Winning the Google contest would ensure the York project has the necessary funding in place to move forward; otherwise the group will need to raise funds through grants and loans.

According to the Google Web site, more people than ever have an abundance of information at hand and so many ways of making good ideas come to life, but there are still so many people needing help in little and big ways. Project 10100 is a way to tap into some of those ideas.

“This would showcase York’s commitment to sustainability and a paradigm shift towards green energy sources with possibilities for live monitoring on the York Web site to report greenhouse gas emission reductions achieved by the system,” says Litster. Once the project gets off the ground, Litster says there are other green ideas that could be adopted.

Some of the criteria used for selecting projects for funding include helping the most people possible, deeply affecting people’s lives, having a simple and cost-effective plan, and an idea that will have a long-lasting impact. There are eight categories all together – community, opportunity, energy, environment, health, education, shelter and everything else.

The winners are expected to be announced in early February. To sign up for a reminder to vote, click here. For more information, visit Google’s Project 10100 Web site.