United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 7: AFFORDABLE & CLEAN ENERGY

Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy

[Lisa Miller & Elaine Fong, Canadian International School, Singapore]

“The world is making progress towards Goal 7, with encouraging signs that energy is becoming more sustainable and widely available. Access to electricity in poorer countries has begun to accelerate, energy efficiency continues to improve, and renewable energy is making impressive gains in the electricity sector. 

Nevertheless, more focused attention is needed to improve access to clean and safe cooking fuels and technologies for 3 billion people, to expand the use of renewable energy beyond the electricity sector, and to increase electrification in sub-Saharan Africa.”  – taken from UN Sustainable Development Goals.

As teacher librarians, we are always trying to engage students in their world, to build empathy for the planet we all call home, and perhaps most importantly, to inspire our students to believe in their ability to build a better world and find solutions for some of the grim realities we have left them to inherit. This post highlights some resources that we hope can do just that.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (2009) / USA / William’s original story
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (2015) / USA / Young reader’s edition
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (2012) / USA / Picture book edition

Desperation is the mother of invention and this certainly was the case for William Kamkwamba growing up in Malawi. Living in drought and poverty, with little money for school or food, he overcomes both to create an affordable and environmentally-friendly energy source that helps not only his family, but his village. 

Note: the picture book above was included in the official SDG Book Club choices for SDG #7, but don’t miss the original adult text or the young reader edition (for ages 10+) – every library should have all three. No matter which version you read, you will be inspired with William’s creativity, resourcefulness, optimism and his love of reading and books to create a renewable and sustainable energy that raised the quality of life for his village.

Solar Story: How One Community Lives Alongside the World’s Biggest Solar Plant by Allan Drummond (2020) / USA / Set in Morocco

Solar Story is told from the narrative of a young girl living in a village next to the Noor Solar Power Plant in Morocco’s Sahara Desert.  The solar plant brings not only sustainable energy, but sustainability in terms of jobs, infrastructure, and economic growth.  The story further explores the possibility of global peace that such multifaceted sustainability can bring beyond the borders of Morocco. Balancing this personal story of solar power is information on how solar power works with diagrams, captions and facts. 

This engaging combination of a child’s personal and optimistic perspective along with the non-fiction informative text and concepts will appeal to early readers. 

Pedal Power: How One Community Became the Bicycle Capital of the World by Allan Drummond (2017) / USA / Set in Amsterdam

In this second book about alternative energy by Allan Drummond, we learn how Amsterdam became the bicycle capital of the world.

“Cycling rules the road in Amsterdam today, but that wasn’t always the case. In the 1970’s, Amsterdam was so crowded with vehicles that bicyclists could hardly move, but moms and kids relied on their bicycles to get around the city. PEDAL POWER is the story of the people who led protests against the unsafe streets and took over a vehicles-only tunnel on their bikes, showing what a little pedal power could do!” [book blurb]

Energy Island: How One Community Harnessed the Wind and Changed Their World by Allan Drummond (2011) / USA / Set in Denmark

Samsø Island in Denmark, also known as Renewable Energy Island, decided in 1997 to embark on a 10-year plan to become 100% energy self-sufficient based on wind, solar and biomass energy. This third picture book by Allan Drummond tells the story of how the local community accomplished that — and more by 2007. Informational sidebars about renewable energy throughout the book make it useful for students of all ages.

The island has its own website where you can read about their latest projects, e.g., to make Samsø completely independent of fossil fuels before 2030.

NB: All three of these Allan Drummond picture books about alternative energy are available as video read-alouds as part of the Future Energy Systems Storytime channel on YouTube, which is produced by the Future Energy Systems group at the University of Alberta (Canada) — and in the “Show More” section under each video are links to resources for educators for each of the books.

Windmill De Kat – Netherlands by Hyo-mi Park, illustrated by Jin-Hwa Kim, edited by Joy Cowley (2016) / Korea / Suitable for ages 6-10

This story of windmills in the Netherlands is re-told from the original Korean text.  Students learn how the Dutch have not only adapted to having much of their land below sea level and battling back the water threatening to overtake them, but also how they have reclaimed most of the land, made it fertile with windmills.  

The book sends a positive message about how disadvantages can become a source of renewable energy and economical fortitude.

NB: This title is part of a series of English editions of Korean picture books called Global Kids Storybooks, produced by big & SMALL Publishing and edited by the well-known New Zealand author Joy Cowley.

Discovering Energy by Johannes Hirn and Victoria Sanz, illustrated by Edoard Altarriba (2020) / USA / Spanish creators / Suitable for 8 – 12 year olds

Generating power is one of humankind’s great achievements – and challenges. To understand the importance of clean energy, students need to understand the underlying concepts of energy production at a basic level and this book does an incredible job of simplifying complex ideas without condescending. 

Award-winning Altarriba’s colourful and clean illustrations complement Sanz’s brisk, accessible prose and help make a wide array of energy sources from hydroelectric to magnetic to solar understandable for students – this would also be useful for older ELL students. Discovering Energy is fascinating and students will lose themselves in the magic.

Brilliant! Shining a light on sustainable energy by Michelle Mulder (2013) / Canada

This book equips and encourages middle school and upper primary students to make balanced and practical choices about sustainable energy in their lives with facts, information, captions, photos and diagrams in an appealing layout.  It also gives real life examples where creativity and everyday things like french fry grease and human poop have changed lives and the environment for the better. 

The optimistic message here is that sustainable energy choices are all around us and we don’t even have to look that hard. We are only limited by our imagination.

A Cloud Called Bhura: Climate Champions to the Rescue by Bijal Vachharajani / India / Suitable for ages 9-12+

Inspired by the “brown clouds” she experienced while doing her masters in Costa Rica, Vachharajani has crafted a rollicking adventure that combines important messages about the consequences of fossil fuel use with those of the power of friendship and community.

Amni, the main character, wakes up to a horrible brown-clouded sky, which causes birds to flee and burning rain to fall.  She and her friends set out on a quest to try to find out how to eliminate it. 

Funny and thought-provoking, the story is ultimately hopeful and emphasises the power of innovation young minds can bring to the problem of clean energy.

“Episode 7. Goal 7: Affordable, clean energy, Nestor, Colombia.” by Project 17, BBC World Service (March 2021) / UK / Suitable for ages 12+

Now this IS hopeful and REAL! To change things up a little, this is a brilliant radio series by the BBC World Service that features a different teenager and a different UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) each week for 17 weeks.

This 26-minute episode for SDG 7 centres on Nestor who lives in a small village in Colombia that has recently been transformed after the installation of solar panels in local schools. The change is radical and positive, students now have access to computers and light regardless of time or weather. Nestor is intelligent and precocious as he seeks to find out just what is possible in terms of solar energy supply for Colombia, and by extension, the rest of the world. This is a celebration of what is going right in the world, right now and of the importance of youth in solving our clean energy crisis.

Mad Like Tesla: Underdog inventors and their relentless pursuit of clean energy by Tyler Hamilton (2011) / Canada / Suitable for age 14+

The name Tesla will be familiar to many students, but this imagination-grabbing and accessible book will introduce them to some astonishing new  “lone runners”and innovators in the field of clean energy. 

We all want answers, especially our students, to the critical issues around global climate change and Hamilton constructs a well-paced  narrative around the amazing thinkers and inventors who are trying – and in some cases, succeeding – to find solutions to clean energy. From man-made tornado energy, to algae that expels ethanol, these unorthodox, outliers may hold the key to a sustainable future and offer all of us hope and inspiration.

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Windfall: unlocking a fossil-free future by Ketan Joshi (2020) / Australian writer now based in Norway / Suitable for ages 14+

Joshi examines the recent history of energy politics in Australia with the aim of springboarding people into action for the next ten. Written in easily accessible prose, his hope is to empower people with an understanding of climate change science but just as importantly, an understanding of the rhetoric being used against climate action. 

The ultimate goal is to help us be better advocates for a renewable energy transition and instead of pretending everything is okay, be armed with knowledge of the challenges and potential difficulties we will face.

Lisa Miller is extremely grateful to have been teaching for over 15 years with most of that time working as a teacher librarian. She is currently the secondary school librarian and head of library at the Canadian International School in Singapore. Please feel free to contact her at lisa.miller@cis.edu.sg

Elaine Fong has been a librarian since 1994 in corporate, public and school libraries in Canada, England, Mexico and Singapore, including 19 years of experience in international schools. She is currently a primary school teacher librarian at the Canadian International School in Singapore.  For more information about Elaine you can visit her website or her LinkedIn profile. Email: elaine.fong@cis.edu.sg

Note: all the books highlighted during this month of SDGs can be found on this GLLI Goodreads shelf.

What are your favorite books for SDG Goal 7: Affordable & Clean Energy? Please share them in the comments. Let’s make this a conversation and work on the goal together.

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