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Energy in Uganda

With its high insolation levels and lack of an extensive electrical power grid, the African nation of Uganda is an ideal environment for expanding the use of solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies. But poor serviceability of internationally-designed and mass-produced solar systems poses a problem for residents as replacement components and solar technicians are scarce, according to electrical engineering students Kirsten Petersen and Jaqueline Barbosa who are working together with community-based organization, Energy Made in Uganda (EMIU), for a solution to this problem for their Senior Design project, advised by Shoba Krsihnan, associate professor of electrical engineering.

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From left, Jaqueline Barbosa and Kirsten Petersen
Photo: Able Hsu '14

At EMIU, housed within the Nsamizi Institute for Social Development in Uganda, local students designed a Solar Home System to provide energy solutions for customers while also offering employment opportunities for local youth who planned to manufacture, sell, and service the product. But for the product to be ready for market, it needed to be both more affordable and more efficient than its initial iteration, so working in SCU’s Latimer Energy Lab using design competencies forged in the School of Engineering’s Frugal Innovation Lab, Kirsten and Jaqueline are working with the Ugandan students to redesign the Solar Home System, improving efficiency, extending capabilities, and increasing manufacturability. Among other criteria, the product will be manufactured locally, designed frugally, and will be appropriate for the needs of the end user. By June the pair expects to have a finished product that also includes a diagnostic tool for post-sales servicing, spec sheets, quality assurance test plan, and all documentation of each component along with the optimal manufacturing process outlined for their colleagues in Uganda.

“Our hopes for the end result of this collaboration are three-fold,” they said; “1. that the people of rural Uganda will have increased opportunities to gain employment and learn marketable skills, 2. that they experience improved well-being, safety, and quality of life, and 3. that micro-businesses such as cell phone charging ventures may grow from the increased access to power.”