Solar energy for remote communities around the world
Waterloo undergrad develops a micro-utility prototype that can power everything from cell phones to solar lanterns
Waterloo undergrad develops a micro-utility prototype that can power everything from cell phones to solar lanternsBy Heather Bean University Communications
A few years into her undergraduate degree, Kayla Hardie found her calling: “I realized I wanted to help the world mitigate and adapt to climate change.”
With graduation in a combined degree of physics and computer science still a year away, Hardie has a solid head start on her goal.
Working with Srinivasan Keshav, a professor in Waterloo’s David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science, Hardie, a student of physics and computer science, designed and wrote the code for a micro-utility prototype that shopkeepers in developing countries can use to sell units of solar energy. Hardie calls it SPEED, for self-serve pre-paid emissions-free energy delivery system.
SPEED is built around a Raspberry Pi computer. Hardie’s code allows shopkeepers to sell units of power for charging small items like cell phones or solar lanterns. SPEED can even perform on-site diagnostics, such as identifying a dirty solar panel, so shopkeepers can fix the system themselves.
Working on SPEED in Waterloo’s Information Systems and Science for Energy (ISS4E) research group was the experience that led Hardie to take on a double major: “I just fell in love with computer science,” she says.
Hardie is a natural maker: in addition to SPEED, as a first-year student she worked with the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) to develop an LED-based spectrophotometer, a tool that can identify the coatings on optical lenses.
But she doesn’t shy away from outreach and committee work, either. “I’m really interested in being able to communicate with people who don’t have the same technical background,” she says. Hardie was part of Waterloo’s delegation to the United Nations Climate Summit Conference in 2016, and is currently a member of the President’s Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability.
Most recently, Hardie has built a connection between ISS4E and the federal government. Hardie spent the summer working with Natural Resources Canada’s Renewable Energy and Electricity Division (NRCan) on smart-grid policy and programs.
“I believe research has a greater impact when we’re working with government or industry,” Hardie says. “This seems like a natural evolution, to stay in contact.”