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Young boffins take the reins of the new ‘future workhorse’


Young boffins take the reins of the new ‘future workhorse’

Kenyan students light the way with a battery delivery system

Senior science reporter

Solar power has a sunny future, with the Energy Watch Group – an international network of scientists and parliamentarians – predicting that by 2050, a global transition to 100% renewable energy will be the order of the day.
Solar and wind energy will be the “new workhorse of the future”, says the group, and if the Kenyan winners of a recent competition are anything to go by, Africa will be at the forefront of solar innovation.
The competition was recently held at Africa Utility Week in Cape Town, where students from Africa competed in a challenge where they had to come up with innovations for the energy sector.
The winning team, from Strathmore University in Kenya, focused on solar energy and came up with a hot idea to bring power to people in rural areas.
The team’s idea is to put a solar-panelled container in rural villages that will also house a clinic and a knowledge hub to teach people about the uses and benefits of solar energy.
It will also include a shop where villagers can buy daily essentials such as milk. Once demand is big enough they will be able to order batteries that will be delivered to their doorsteps on tricycles.
“Villagers will see and learn benefits of electricity, and as the business grows, they will want to have electricity in their homes, and when that point comes, we will have solar-powered tricycles,” said team member Ignatius Maranga.
“These tricycles will carry and deliver batteries like Uber does passengers to villagers in more remote areas. The system is modular so we will add another container to charge batteries. These batteries are ferried on trikes, so villagers in more remote areas can request a number of charged batteries on their phones.”
He said the team’s winning idea was rooted in real-life challenges faced by rural Kenyans. “The solutions offered so far to expand energy access are not solving these problems, as many are not financially viable.”
The inaugural competition was called Initiate! Impact Challenge, and is likely to become a regular feature at Africa Utility Week.
Solar power will also take centre stage at Soapbox Science 2019, and there shining her expert light on the topic will be University of the Western Cape solar guru Dr Natasha Ross.
Ross is one of several female scientists selected to take part in the event at the V&A Waterfront in September.
The event is part of an international movement to make science more accessible to laypeople, and according to the University of the Western Cape, “Soapbox Science takes female scientists out of the lab and on to the streets, to talk to the passing, unsuspecting public about science – placing the spotlight on female scientists”.
“I am excited to take science to the public,” said Ross. “I want to help the public become increasingly aware of … how solar power can make a difference, and how developing technologies that can efficiently use renewable energy sources are critical to our future.”
Her research niche is photovoltaic solar cells and renewable energy storage. Photovoltaic cell technology transforms solar energy into electrical energy. 
“Conserving energy is a topic close to home; it is the best way to ensure a secure and sustainable energy supply for our future generations, and also a means to reduce greenhouse gases and emissions,” said Ross, adding that solar power is the last energy resource that isn’t owned.
“Nobody taxes the sun ... yet,” she said.

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