One Engineer’s Hopes to Implement Far-reaching Renewable Energy Solutions Across Latin America

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As a child, Luis Felipe Gaitan Cubides, IEEE PES’ 2021 Outstanding Student Scholarship Award recipient, spent a lot of time on a family farm in rural Colombia where electricity didn’t arrive until just a few years ago. 

These visits had a big impact on Felipe, who is currently pursuing his master’s degree in electrical engineering at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana while also working as an electrical design engineer for IEB, a consulting firm that manages and develops engineering projects in the energy, oil and gas, mining, cement, and institutional sectors.

“When I went there, we didn’t use energy at all. We used candles for light and wood to warm our food. To this day, many people go to bed at 7 pm and get up at 6 am because there are no lights and nothing to entertain you once it gets dark,” he explained. “People think that this is only the case in rural areas, but even in the cities, sometimes people only have electricity a few hours a day.”

 Felipe, together with other engineering professionals and students, are investigating and proposing solutions to help bring 24/7 electricity to all of Colombia, a country rich in solar and electric resources that can help turn his dream into reality.

Having known he wanted a career where he could help people, Felipe decided to pursue electrical engineering while he was in high school. 

“I found it to be a special vocation that provides the opportunity to do many different things, including discovering and implementing solutions to real-world problems,” he said. 

Felipe discovered the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers

(IEEE) while studying for his bachelor’s degree and immediately realized its unique potential for furthering his knowledge. Not long after, he was introduced to the Power & Energy Society

(PES) and was excited to learn about the opportunities it afforded students. 

Soon, Felipe and his student colleagues were reaching out to IEEE members and asking them to visit the university to provide details on their work and experience. Many were only too happy to comply, which provided another unexpected benefit – the opportunity for Felipe and his fellow students to network.

“Through our work in PES, we were able to learn more about the employer market,” he explained. “Many of my friends found jobs this way because professionals in the industry were able to see our skills firsthand. If it wasn’t for IEEE PES, that would not have been the case.”

A member of several PES committees, Felipe is the social media chair and student activities coordinator within his chapter, and is also an active member of Women in Power (WIP).

“I’ve been in the social media and student activities roles since 2018 and 2016, respectively,” Felipe said. “Sometimes students have a lot of ideas but don’t know how to put them into practice. What we try to do is advise students to use the networking opportunities that are available to them through IEEE and PES through the various activities we promote throughout Latin America.” 

When asked about his work with WIP, Felipe noted that women in Latin America who decide to pursue careers in engineering face many challenges. 

“It’s complicated to be an engineer in Latin America overall, but it’s even more complicated to be a female engineer in Latin America,” he said. “When I started to work with WIP, my objective was to help make the path for women a little easier. I try to encourage them by sharing the trials and challenges other women have and acknowledging that while the path they are traveling is complex, they should keep moving forward with the guide and advice of the women leaders of the region. I like to encourage people to follow their dreams.”

For Felipe, finding out that he had been awarded the IEEE PES 2021 Outstanding Student Scholarship Award felt like a dream come true for him.

“That was a very good surprise, but I was in such a state of shock I don’t think I said very much at the time,” he said. “When I looked at the list of nominees it made me feel so very humble. It has made me that much more energized to continue volunteering and studying so that I can help to implement the changes Latin America needs in terms of renewable energy.” 

Upon the completion of his master’s degree, Felipe plans to travel to remote parts of the country to discuss the needs of the villages and come up with solutions that can help improve their quality of life. 

“We are going to integrate very big new plans in the country in terms of solar and electric energy,” he said. “When you go to those places, and you watch when they can turn on a refrigerator or a tv, it’s like magic for them. For people who are in the cities, it’s a normal thing, but for them it’s all the world and I can’t wait to start changing their lives for the better – one village at a time.”  

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