Life after IE: A conversation with Anurag Bhambhani from ‘Energy for Refugees’

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Energy for Refugees Anurag Bhambhani (photo Roos van Tongeren)

by I.G.P. Photo: Roos van Tongeren.

With this issue we want to introduce projects that IE-ers are working on, either after graduation or during their studies. We hope that this gives an idea about the experiences, working environment, fields of research and interest of our fellow students.


Our first chosen project is Energy for Refugees, a project group building PV-systems for the refugee camps on Lesvos in Greece. Energy for Refugees has received a lot of media attention, but in case you want a recap (or an introduction), check out this video:

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We asked some questions to Anurag Bhambhani, one of the initiators and fellow Industrial Ecology student.


Nilli: How was the project initiated in the first place?

Anurag: The TU Energy Club called for applicants who want to work on a project on a refugee camp and they chose us by our applications and motivation letters. Then we started working on a project that was planned on a certain camp in Greece. But it did not really work out because their requirements were different from what could be provided. It was too big for 4 months. So, then we had a talk with the club and said we are going to find our own source, our own contacts. This is how we came in contact with this camp on Lesvos called Pikpa and that’s how we began.

Nilli: What is your specific role and your work?

Anurag: I was selected to be the leader of the club so my basic role was coordinating everything between the teams. Within the team there was a communication team, a technical team and a fundraising team. So, I had to keep track of all these departments and help each team with whatever task they are in and basically assigning work, more like a manager.

Nilli: Who is working together with you? Did you all go to Lesvos together?

Anurag: We were a total of 7, an international team of which most studied sustainable technology. It was interdisciplinary but I was the only one from IE to that time. We all went together leaving around 8th or 9th of July. But while we were on the island our tasks were divided as we worked in shifts and we also had part of the team going around and go finding more sources, more contacts for the next years project. We worked together but not on the same task at the same time.

Nilli: When you were there what was the most emotional moment for you? How was the reaction of the people in the camp?

Anurag: The whole trip was intense emotionally because a lot of things went wrong while we were preparing the 6 months and also while we were there. But of course, as expected the most emotional moment was when we finished. We semi-finished and then we had to leave because our time was over.

The people of the camp were very happy but it is a tricky thing as they did not know that we were going to work there. The reason was that in the last minute we had to change our camp, which was one week after going there. The people who then worked with us from the camp were really interested in this technology and wanted to know more about it, asked questions and supported us with drinks. That was so nice.


Nilli: What kind of problems did you have in the past and how did you manage to overcome these?

Anurag: Communicating with the people in the camp was difficult because none of them had a technical background. We were in contact with an electrician in the old camp, old Pikpa and he didn’t really understand simple things like, ‘what is a flat roof?’. So, when he said flat roof he meant that it is flat but in a triangle form. But he said flat roof so we designed the system based on that idea. But finally, that communication was clarified when we researched through Google Maps.

And then secondly, we were earlier supposed to design a grid connected system, so it could be connected to the grid and whenever the grid power is down it gets power from the panels. But a few months before we figured out that they cannot get a permit. They don’t have any permits. It is tolerated but they cannot get any permits from the municipality or make any connections so we had to shift to an off-grid battery system that increased the costs by 100%.

Thirdly, 10 days before we were supposed to fly we got the news that the camp is being sued and that it had to be closed down. So, we talked to them and they said they could not tell us what was going to happen but the team should just come and they would decide there what should happen. We had 40 panels and 10 batteries so we went anyway had to talk to people and find other camps.

Nilli: What barriers do you see then for future of the project?

Anurag: Barriers will be now less because we have structure, have a name and have experience with problems. Actually, we only have experience with problems. But biggest problem could be communication because when we come from a university we have a fixed mindset of how things should be like specific size or angle etc. but that would often not work out. Even when they say it would, it sometimes does not.

Nilli:   Do you mean that your knowledge is now more applied?

Anurag: That is not only the thing with IE but just every university gives you a framework how to act in real life situations but IE allows you a lot of freedom in what you want to study so I took a lot of electives like all electives that were possible for PV technology and solar energy and IE gives you a place to see perspectives for each renewable technology.

Nilli: What else can you think of that gave you a lot of value for the project?

Anurag: Systems thinking is very important in this project but also in any other large-scale environmental protection project where you deal with so many other factors like social factors such as refugee problems or economic factors because you have to raise money. To see these contacts and connect the problems is something you can learn in our program.

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