Graduate student group engages with energy access through photo exhibit

Posted On:

Thursday, Aug 23, 2018 - 9:10 am

What does energy access mean to you?

It may be a difficult question to answer. Despite energy access goals being a part of UN Sustainable Development Goals, ambiguity still persists about the root meaning of the term.

To help engage the Duke community with the personal, relational, and multifaceted aspects of energy access, a graduate student group invited photo submissions in response to this question.

The Global Energy Access Network (GLEAN) is an interdisciplinary network of graduate and professional students at Duke University who 1) recognize the urgency of the energy access challenge facing the Global South; and 2) aim to advance sustainable, interdisciplinary solutions to address this challenge in their research and professional pursuits.

Recognizing that visual media can highlight the reality of energy poverty in remote, rural settings in new and distinct ways, GLEAN organized the ImaginEnergy Photo Contest—open to students from across the world. The contest received over 40 submissions.

Winners—selected via a social media campaign led by the Duke University Energy Initiative—had the opportunity to display their photos as part of a DUU VisArts curated exhibition at Duke’s Brown Art Gallery in the Bryan Center this summer. The exhibit runs through September 7, 2018.

Their photographs were also on display during the annual meeting of the Sustainable Energy Transitions Initiative (SETI), which was hosted by Duke for the third consecutive year in May 2018.

Yating Li, one of GLEAN's 2017-2018 Coordinators, shares: "With an exhibit like this, the dialogue is very different. It creates space and allows you to have some personal reflection, like an art piece. It lets you learn and also think--how does this relate to me?"

Gallery visitors were invited to leave comments in a notebook. Of the reactions, Li says, "Everyone has very different readings of what is shown in a museum setting."

Li notes several standout photos for her: "There's one of a landscape with both solar and wind. It's become almost a norm to see renewables as part of the landscape. There's also one of a woman with a clean cookstove. That photo reminds me of incremental change--you can sense the joy she has with that change." 

Woman sits with cookstove

Solar panels and wind turbines in a field

If you haven't had a chance to check out the exhibit, head over to the Brown Art Gallery at the Bryan Center by September 7th.

Faces of Yating Lee and Elizabeth Rublev in the gallery
Yating Li (PhD - Environmental Economics and Energy) and Elizabeth Rublev (MEM '18) installing photos in the gallery.

To learn more about GLEAN, check out their website or look at some of their past events.

To join GLEAN's mailing list for information about biweekly meetings and relevant events on campus, send an email to with no subject and the following message: "Subscribe GLEAN."

The Global Energy Access Network is sponsored by the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies under the Duke Support for Interdisciplinary Graduate Networks (D-SIGN) Grant, and housed within the Duke University Energy Initiative.