NEWS UC Berkeley students provide solar energy to Ugandans

Berke­ley Stu­dent Blog (Clog)

What are you doing this sum­mer? Tak­ing a class online? Intern­ing from 9 to 5? Trav­el­ing a lit­tle? This sum­mer, the California-​​Renewable and Adap­tive Energy, or CAL-​​RAE, team will be help­ing with the con­struc­tion of a solar micro­grid sys­tem in Uganda.

UC Berke­ley stu­dents Jalel Sager, Jonathan Lee and Austin Cap­pon will install the first stage of the micro­grid in Kitobo, a fish­ing island in Lake Vic­to­ria, Uganda. The core mem­bers stay­ing in Berke­ley will con­tinue to work on research and fundrais­ing efforts.

The club has ben­e­fited from the help of cam­pus pro­fes­sor Daniel Kam­men, who, accord­ing to Cap­pon, has been instru­men­tal with his “blend of global insight and encour­age­ment of prac­ti­cal, local-​​scale devel­op­ment engi­neer­ing approaches.”

You might be think­ing, “What is a solar micro­grid sys­tem? Why does Uganda need one? Why do I need to know about this now, in the mid­dle of the sum­mer?” To answer these ques­tions, we at the Clog asked Cap­pon, Kam­men and Krina Huang to dis­cuss, in an email, CAL-​​RAE and its cur­rent micro­grid project in the Lake Vic­to­ria community.

The Daily Clog: Why did you decide to start your project in Uganda? Are there other places that are more in need of energy in the world?

Austin Cap­pon: In 2013, we won a (United Nations) SEED (Ini­tia­tive) Award (under our for­mer name, SEA-​​RAE). One of the fel­low SEED Award win­ners based in Kam­pala, Uganda, learned of the micro­grid sys­tem design we were work­ing on at the time and intro­duced to the Ssese Islands in Lake Victoria.

The com­mu­ni­ties in the Lake Vic­to­ria region are both deserv­ing and eager for mod­ern energy. In our pilot com­mu­nity for the region, res­i­dents will use the new elec­tric­ity to power homes, health clin­ics, and new busi­ness ventures.

DC: What is a micro­grid system?

AC: A micro­grid is a small-​​scale elec­tric­ity sys­tem that uses dis­trib­uted resources to pro­duce power. In our case, this resource is solar power. Solar power is har­vested on top of “Solar Trees” installed through­out the com­mu­nity, that power is then routed back to a bat­tery bank for stor­age. This stor­age allows for unin­ter­rupted access to elec­tric­ity, even after dark. Micro­grids allow com­mu­ni­ties to reduce reliance on exter­nal resources like diesel and kerosene that are often dif­fi­cult and expen­sive to source in remote locations.

DC: Is this solar energy con­sid­ered to be clean energy? How so?

AC: Our sys­tem har­vests renew­able energy from the sun, using solar pan­els. The sys­tem will replace fos­sil fuel-​​burning diesel gen­er­a­tors and kerosene lamps. Lake Vic­to­ria has many small islands that don’t have access to con­ven­tional elec­tric­ity grid ser­vices. They are forced to pay expen­sive rates for poor qual­ity elec­tric­ity, if they want power. The abun­dance of sun, and eager­ness for mod­ern elec­tric­ity makes the region ripe for devel­op­ment of renew­able power systems.

DC: How does the new power grid affect the economy?

AC: The new micro­grid will open doors for com­mu­nity busi­nesses to use new machines that have until now not been avail­able. These are devices like pumps and refrig­er­a­tors that would over­tax the weak diesel gen­er­a­tors the com­mu­nity uses cur­rently. Gen­er­ally, the sys­tem will trans­late to sub­stan­tial cost sav­ings for users of the elec­tric grid, that cur­rently pay about six times the aver­age Cal­i­for­nia rate per unit of energy. The micro­grid will likely reduce busi­ness for the ven­dors of kerosene and diesel fuel.

Want to get involved? Con­tact Huang, one of the under­grad­u­ate mem­bers of the group. After join­ing CAL-​​RAE, you’ll have the oppor­tu­nity to choose to be a part of one of the three depart­ments of CAL-​​RAE: tech­ni­cal, social media and eco­nomic analysis.

For addi­tional infor­ma­tion, visit the CAL-​​RAE Face­book page or send Cap­pon an email in order to be added to the Listserv.

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