Sailing the Atlantic supporting access to energy

Posted on 19 September 2019.

Four engineering students left Brittany on September 1st to sail the Atlantic. Their goal: to promote renewable energy and support access to electricity in remote areas.

As part of a mission entrusted to them by Voiles sans Frontières, they will take solar panels to a health center in a village in Senegal.

One in seven people - a little more than a billion worldwide - do not have access to electricity according to the World Bank. It is particularly true in sub-Saharan Africa, a region very poorly served by electricity where the access rate in 2014 was just 37%. And the lack of access to electricity hampers economic and social development: it locks millions of people into poverty.
A problem four future French engineers are fully aware of and which they are resolved to tackle in any way they can. Students from ENSTA ParisTech and Télécom SudParis, Charlotte de Fouquières, Côme Houdeville, Paul Thomé and Camille de Veyrac designed a major project. For a whole year, from September 2019 to August 2020, they will sail around the Atlantic Ocean promoting and supporting sustainable access to energy.
In their turn supported by, in particular, #LivingCircular, the four students started on September 1 from Crouesty at the entrance to the Gulf of Morbihan in Brittany. They are aboard the Kerwatt, an energy self-sufficient boat - of course! –fitted with three solar panels.
Their journey, has three goals: install renewable energy systems as part of two humanitarian missions; explore innovative and environmentally friendly energy solutions; and educate the general public - especially the younger generation - about global energy issues. The two humanitarian missions these 4 sailors full of energy (the translation of the name of their project “4 matelots pleins d’énergie”) will undertake are each planned to last two months.

Stops in Senegal and Haiti

First stop: Senegal. And more specifically, the village of Moundé, a rural community in the west. As part of a mission entrusted to them by the not-for-profit Voiles sans Frontières, the four students will use solar panels and their engineering skills to bring electricity to a health center.
"The village health center has absolutely no access to energy. Flashlights are used to deliver babies at night. Certain medicines can’t be stored without a refrigerator," explain the four sailors on their website.
To ensure the sustainability of their action after they have left, they will work with a Senegalese supplier and will train a maintenance technician on site. For technical aspects of their mission, they will be helped by the NGO Électriciens sans Frontières, which will provide them with information about conducting electrification projects in rural areas.
The rest of their journey will take the four sailors to Haiti, where they plan to help a local organization design and install a sustainable microgrid. These autonomous micro-grids, relying on solar panels and battery farms, make it possible to very simply electrify a group of houses and even small villages.

Innovate and educate

But that's not all. Throughout their journey, the young sailors plan to explore the innovative solutions that already exist to meet energy needs in the most remote areas. Even though renewable energy is more readily available across the world, it is still not expanding at a pace sufficient to produce a proper ecological transition, especially in the off-grid regions of the world.
Microgrids, hybrid grids, intermittent supplies... The sailors will focus their research and their site visits on four aspects: technical (calculating the dimensions of the site, storage management, connection to the grid, etc.), environmental, by checking which materials have been used and whether the fauna and flora are well protected, economic viability, and acceptance by the people. This information will then be shared on their blog and their social networks through mini-documentaries and articles.
The last part of the project is to raise public awareness, in particular the younger generation, to global energy issues.
On their return to France in August 2020, the four sailors plan to organize workshops on the theme of climate change and access to energy. They will notably go into several schools in the priority education network in Île-de-France thanks to the not-for-profit L’[email protected]’hôpital. Ile-de-France schools will be matched with schools in Senegal and Haiti. The loop will be looped.

Follow Charlotte, Como, Paul and Camille on the website 4 matelots pleins d’énergie and on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube