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On 12, Mar 2012 | No Comments | In | By Zach Lyman

Tshumbe – Supporting Technical Education in Africa

Distributed energy production systems are the future of African rural electrification. Reluminati has been proud to work with Notre Dame University to provide power for technical education in Tshumbe, Congo.

cSEND (The Center for Sustainable Energy at Notre Dame) enlisted Reluminati and its partner Lyman Morse Technologies to design a hybrid power solution, combining solar energy, battery storage, and an existing onsite generator that will provide reliable power for a technical university located in a remote area north of Kinshasa.  With the arrival of the Hybrid system, cSEND aims not only to provide reliable, renewably-based energy, but also a new curriculum around renewable energy systems.

So while this project is initially about designing a flexible energy system, the long term goals are much more lofty: Provide a Center of Excellence that helps train the new generation of Congolese renewable energy experts.

As with many areas of rural Africa, consistent power is always an issue. The school has historically been powered by an aging generator that has lost much of its efficiency. Because the surrounding road infrastructure is underdeveloped, diesel is actually air-lifted to the school at an astoundingly high cost. Even when the fuel arrives on time, a majority of it is wasted.  Why?  Because of two very common problems:

1. The large genset is old and its efficiency losses increase with age.

2. While the generator is huge, the loads are not always so, wasted fuel on smaller electrical loads.

Aging gensets and over-sizing are perhaps the most prevalent system inefficiencies we see in the field – whether it’s a rural electrification site in Haiti, or within a U.S. Marine Corps Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Afghanistan.  Older generators waste a significant amount of the energy that could potentially be produced from diesel. In addition, generators are often sized to “peak loads” (essentially the amount of energy needed when everything and anything is on). While this is often a necessary design requirement, the corresponding load profile is almost never running at 100% of the generator’s designed capacity.

In the case of the Tshumbe school, most of the day’s load consists of two computers, a fan and room lights in the evening; nowhere near the peak load support of their enormous generator. The result is an estimated 56% efficiency, meaning that of all diesel consumed in a given month 44% is completely wasted.

Reluminati specializes in fixing this type of situation.

In fact, through a combination of integrated battery storage and power management, and a rooftop solar array, we are able support almost all of the day-to-day loads of the school without consuming any fuel at all.

In the short term, the existing generator will be integrated into the system to provide peak load support and manage the days where weather is an impediment. In phase two, cSEND intends to replace the generator with a smaller, more efficient model that will further optimize the system. Finally, we know that with reliable power the school will flourish, so it was also critical to ensure that the system architecture was flexible enough to grow as demand increases.

The system is ready and about to be shipped to Kinshasa. Notre Dame staff arrive later in summer 2012 to help school staff and students integrate the systems. They will also begin to jointly design the curriculum and foster a long term relationship with the school – including future student exchanges and additional phases of power system integration.

We are honored to be a part of the program.