As part of a series highlighting the work of young people in addressing the climate crisis, writer Patricia Lane interviews Samia Sami, an engineer working in the renewable energy field.

Author's statement

With the realities of climate change, inequality and the pandemic, one could be forgiven for choosing despair. But the world is no better off for that, so I choose to study hope, a discipline that requires practise. Here, treat yourself to a few minutes of joy in the next instalment of my series profiling amazing — and yes, hopeful — young people contending successfully with the climate justice crisis in Canada.

Samia Sami is helping to engineer a better future. As an engineering undergraduate at the University of Saskatchewan, she designed a system for SaskPower Corp. that equips artificial intelligence to accurately predict when a renewable energy grid will require a boost from other sources. She is a founder of the Saskatoon Solar Shelter, which installs solar-powered heated bus-stop shelters. Samia is chair of the USask Student Chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Power and Energy Society. She is the 2020 Canadian IEEE Power and Energy Society Outstanding Scholar, and one of Starfish Canada’s 2020 Top 25 Environmentalists under 25.

Samia Sami was inspired to become an engineer by watching her father fix things around the house. Photo submitted by Samia Sami

Samia Sami

Tell us why your measurement system matters.

The world needs renewable energy. Solar and wind are cheap and readily available, but, unlike fossil fuels, they are not easily stored. Energy grids must provide a constant supply of power, so to be safe, operators often draw down more fossil fuel backup than is needed. My system provides highly accurate information so the drawdown is only the boost that is actually required. This is especially important in remote communities that rely heavily on expensive and unhealthy diesel.

Why did you introduce the USask chapter of IEEE Power and Energy to undergraduate students?

IEEE is the largest professional association in the world. I wanted to make its network of renewable energy professionals available to my fellow students. In 2020, our first year, 50 students were introduced to the many opportunities available for us through information job fairs and speed networking. At our two-day Diversity, Inclusion and Equity conference, 150 high school and university students and professionals increased their awareness of the many opportunities available to people from diverse backgrounds and benefits to the profession from employing them.

Samia Sami at the Ice Castle in Edmonton. Photo submitted by Samia Sami
Inspired by watching her father fix things around the house, this young woman became an engineer specializing in renewable energy. #engineers #ClimateChange

Tell us how the way you were raised impacted you.

Although my parents were doing very well in Pakistan, nine years ago, they left everything because they believed there was a better life here for their three girls. That sacrifice is a very important lesson for me. I am the first woman engineer in my family, and I am conscious of the role-modelling I do for my sisters.

My dad is a power engineer. I really admired how he could figure out why things around the house were not working and often fix them. My mom helps me keep going and encourages me to think of my age, gender and religion not as a barrier, but as an asset to thinking differently.

Islam teaches we must strive to be better every day as we care for our families, our environment and our country. This can be tiring, so we have Ramadan as a month of reflection to allow us to take stock and be refreshed with new intentions. This is a great advantage because it reduces burnout.

Do you have any advice for other young people?

Figure out what interests you and find out how you can make a difference — not just for yourself, but for others. That will keep you motivated.

Do you have something to say to older people?

You have the resources, and therefore the responsibility, to raise your voices with decision-makers, including utility companies and governments. Please, for all our sakes, do this and if you have not succeeded in the past, strive to do better each day.