As Europe is confronted with the biggest wave of displaced people since World War II, existing divisions are widening while countries struggle to accommodate refugees fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa. This is where Alexandros Angelopoulos (CGS Class of 2014) and his fellow student Samuel Kellerhals, both in their second year at the University of Edinburgh saw an opportunity for change. Visiting the Greek Island of Samos, it was clear to them that after the provision of food, water and shelter, refugees’ main concern was communication and access to information. With this trip vividly present in the back of their minds, Alex and Sam returned to Scotland motivated to come up with a solution.
Refugees explained that without their phones, they have no way of communicating with family members at home. After making the treacherous sea-passage it is important for refugees to let their loved ones know they have made a safe journey to their first point of arrival but battery charges don’t last forever and electricity is often not free.
The local community supports the needs of refugees however it is a non-sustainable situation: people are dispersed throughout the port, in and around tourist areas as well as restaurants, trying to find places to charge mobile phones and access the Internet. While locals recognize this need, providing electricity to a growing population of refugees is costly and can impact the tourism industry, Samos’ main source of income.
Alex and Sam’s solution was creating Elpis, (or hope in Greek), a student-led project devoted to providing free electricity to refugees by using solar-power. Human rights and environmental technology brought together through a completely carbon-neutral model reducing the environmental footprint of both local residents and refugees, while showcasing a sustainable approach to the crisis.
An integrated solar-charging unit developed in Edinburgh and deployed in Samos has begun lowering both the financial and environmental cost to local communities as the carbon-neutral electricity scheme provides power to mobile phones and other electric appliances. The current mobile prototype is lightweight and equipped with 24 plugs supported by a photovoltaic panel and metallic frame, allowing 240 devices to be charged over 10 hours. It is estimated the unit will be operational from July to August on the island of Samos, providing free power to over 7000 refugees and their families.
The long-term goal is to explore this scalability and begin providing free off-grid electricity to other affected islands in Greece such as Lesvos and also many of the world’s 1.2 billion people without power, from Syrians fleeing war to slum-dwellers in India.
Elpis has been selected as one of the finalists at the Clinton Global Initiative Conference in Berkeley, California where the Alex and Sam hope to broaden their network and
pitch their idea to investors. Always open to new suggestions, they call out to anyone with an interest in what they are doing to get in touch with them directly through email, or through their Facebook page.
The CGS family is proud of them and we wish them every success at the conference and their project this summer!