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Tuesday 22 July 2014

Kenya: Varsities Go Big On Innovations

Education systems in Africa have increasingly developed since the colonial era with governments emphasizing on technical approaches in problem solving so as to improve living standards by collaborating with other institutions such as Microsoft in funding Hi-Tech and other innovation programmes in higher learning institutions.

By Staff Writer

Kenya has great potential to generate solar power, said Prof. Izael Pereira Da Silva, Director of Energy Research Centre at Strathmore University in an interview at the university in Madaraka, Nairobi.

“Kenya sits on the Equator making it a country that has the sun the whole year. But it is a paradox because you have less than 2% of solar power installations,” he said.

Prof. Da Silva said the remaining 98% of solar installations, are in countries which are outside the sun-belt.

We have several problems and need to realize as a country, the benefits of solar power and the great capacity that can be generated from our vantage point near the equator.

“First, there is the problem of awareness where most people don’t know much about solar. Secondly, you don’t have a specific industry for solar; very few people are trained to install and maintain this thing and thirdly, the government is not very much willing to design policies that can favor the industry,” he said.

But despite the challenges, Strathmore University has decided to take the solar power route to not only save on energy costs, but also sell excess power, among other benefits.

The university has installed one of the largest rooftop PV solar power plants in the region producing over 600 kilowatts which consists of 2,400 solar panels and 30 inverters.

According to Prof. Da Silva, the new project will now save the university close to Sh1.8 million every month in terms of electricity bills, adding the savings will be used to service the loan which was used to finance the project at the beginning.

The project was financed through secured green funds at concessionary rates from the Co-operative Bank of Kenya (CBK).

“We hope to get about 70% of our bills knocked off,” said Da Silva, “It is like renting a house and buying a house. Now, I am buying a house. In about seven and a half year’s time we will have paid the loan, then we will benefit with the project perhaps for the next 20 years.”

The plant was installed by Quest Works Limited, a local real estate project management and consulting company which is the first of its solar project in the country and in East African region.

The system is spread over the rooftops of six buildings within the university and has a daily power production of 2.2 to 2.8 megawatt hours, monitored at panel level.

Quest Works Lead Consultant and CEO Raul Figueroa, said this kind of project is meant for heavy power users and during daytime like large institutions and factories. “People who use more power during the night and not during the day are not candidate.”

Figueroa urged organizations to embrace solar power, emphasizing on investing in enough research prior to solar installations to ensure they get the required results.

Mean while, a group of three Kenyatta University (KU) students, cum developers are set to change how greenhouses work by automating them.

Smart Shamba is an automated greenhouse irrigation system is controlled by a computerized control box that targets water sources for irrigation, control of moisture input and output , to the exact time when the crops them, wasting not a single drop of water or fertilizer.

Antony Mburu 25, Japheth Kipkirui 23 and Charles Nyagaka 24 are members of Tech Team group, and all fourth year students in Electrical and electronics Engineering Department.

The prototype project was picked as the best in the just concluded Galileo Competitions by Intel East Africa and driven by iHub that is raring to change how farming is done in Kenya and make good cash.

“We come up with the idea during a brain storming session to automate and control different parameters in it according to the crops needs and time since different crops requires different environments,” said Mburu.

The control box comes with a memory card to store data with a screen interface powered by a battery with cables connected to the sensors in the greenhouse, which detects and records temperatures, controls light and humidity levels in the green house together with water tank.

According to Kipkirui, the data recorded in the memory card can be used by extension officers to recommend the necessary crops that do well in the area and also the favorable conditions in the greenhouse hence food security

The students are looking forward to modify the system to detect soil PH levels, water level in the tank, intruders like rodents or even person in the greenhouse and record to the screen and help the farmer know the necessary action.

When the temperatures are high, there is a fan on the roof which rotates to control it ad shutters on the roof to allow necessary temperatures.

Nyagaka said the system helps also save water since it is able to detect when water is needed and communicates with the control box to notify the farmer to allow inflow of water.

“The system is able to detect when the plants need water and causes the valve at the water tank to automatically open,” he said.

Education systems in Africa have increasingly developed since the colonial era with governments emphasizing on technical approaches in problem solving so as to improve living standards by collaborating with other institutions such as Microsoft in funding Hi-Tech and other innovation programmes in higher learning institutions.

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