Living without access to clean water, reliable electricity, or public streetlights seems almost impossible to most students at the University of Toronto. However, many developing nations and communities are still struggling with this basic infrastructure. Xalostoc in the Ecatepec municipality of the State of Mexico is such a community. After exponential growth in the 1990s, it has been lacking reliable electricity and safe housing. Xalostoc is in an area known for informal settlements, where inhabitants live in extreme poverty without access to basic city services.
A major issue in this community is violence. Residents of Xalostoc have identified public street lighting as the most effective way to improve security and trust. However, the community does not have access to formal electrical service nor the means to pay the usage fees demanded by the local electric utility. An alternative to traditional street lighting is an off-grid solar powered system.
The University of Toronto CECA/NECA Student Chapter is excited to announce that Xalostoc was able get such a street lighting system and that we were able to help. An array of 11 off-grid LED street lights with integrated solar panels and batteries were installed on December 15th as shown in Figure 1. This project has been supported by the Mexico City Chapter of TECHO, funding from Electri International and the University of Toronto Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering, and the experience of Toronto based electrical contractors. The U of T CECA Student Chapter got involved in this project as part of the Student Passport Initiative hosted by Electri International.
Figure 1: Installation Site Plan
Student Passport Initiative
The Student Passport Initiative, recently rebranded as The Student Community Service Initiative, is a student design competition that provides funding for students to help an underprivileged community upgrade an existing electrical system or install a new one. The U of T CECA Student Chapter first got involved with the Student Passport Initiative in 2015, when we partnered with Penn State University to submit a proposal for the 2015 competition. After winning the competition, the joint team traveled to Roatán, Honduras to install a 4 kW solar array to power a water pump in a community that struggles with expensive, unreliable and polluting electricity generated from imported diesel.
Xalostoc Project History
This project started as an idea between a few members of U of T’s CECA Student Chapter and through discussion with the Mexico City Chapter of TECHO. TECHO representatives provided a list of multiple communities and documentation of identified needs for each that had been developed by the community with TECHO’s help. A common concern for many of the communities was safety. It was identified that safety could be greatly improved through street lighting, though most of the communities lacked access to reliable electricity and other government services typically required for such a project. This seemed like a great need that could not be addressed through typical channels but could be addressed by solar power street lighting.
This project formally began in April 2017, when the U of T CECA Student Chapter submitted a proposal for public street lighting for the community of Toltenco to Electri International as part of the Student Passport Initiative. The team’s original proposal was for the project to occur in the community of Toltenco, as opposed to Xalostoc (the community where the project ended up taking place), due to issues that will be discussed later in this post. After submitting our proposal, U of T was short-listed, along with Penn State University, to present to the Electri Council in Boston. Ernesto Díaz Lozano Patiño and Professor Brenda McCabe represented our team in Boston in July 2017. Their presentation won the Student Passport Initiative and Electri International provided $20,000 to support its implementation.
Figure 2: Student Passport Presentation
Earthquakes and Other Delays
Two major earthquakes affected southern and central Mexico in September 2017. Due to this, all construction projects in the Xochimilco borough were brought to a halt. Further, changes in the local borough authorities complicated the process of obtaining the permits necessary to complete the project, resulting in delays that forced the team to investigate an alternative community for the project. Such difficulties highlight some of the many challenges faced by such underprivileged communities. Fortunately, TECHO was able to assist the team in identifying similar needs in the community of Xalostoc, where our team was able to install the street lights.
Due to a variety of factors, including favouring community engagement, cost, and that most of the original project team had graduated, it was determined that it made the most sense for the community and local contractors to install the street lighting. The U of T team would assist by having one team member inspect the site before installation and only a portion of the U of T team visit to obtain feedback from the community and commission the project. In November, the community, contractors, and TECHO completed the necessary excavation for the footing and installed the concrete base of the street lighting with the help of a crane. Some pictures from the installation are shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3: Installation of the Foundation
On December 15th, the community, contractors, and TECHO completed the installation of the street lighting by assembling and mounting the street lights. Pictures of this installation are shown in Figure 4 and the street lights in action in Figure 5. Additional information on the construction can be found in this Blog Post provided by TECHO.
Figure 4: Assembling and Mounting the Streetlights
Figure 5: The Streetlights in Action
Now, a small team of U of T Students (mainly alumni) will go to Xalostoc for project commissioning from January 11th through to January 14th. While there, this meeting will also include:
- Discussions with community members
- Discussions about potential future projects with TECHO
Keep an eye out for our next blog post after this trip, where we will share what we have learned on the project and provide any useful advice we may have for future students.