Harnessing solar power

Harnessing solar power

Own Correspondent

ROMA – THE National University of Lesotho (NUL) stunned scientists and clean energy researchers from all over the world in Germany more than a week ago.

Our scientists won the Second Prize Award at the International Conference on Solar Technologies held in Bad Hersfeld, Frankfurt, Germany.

That happened as NUL scientists displayed their brilliant solar thermal system which, as we talk, is being enjoyed by an 80-year-old lady in a mountainous rural area of Nazareth in Machache.

It is a system that heats up your water so you can bath, wash your clothes and dishes and even cook, all without need for electricity.

Lecturer Anadola Tšiu, working with Professor Molibeli Taele and Dr Leboli Thamae and their students from the NUL Department of Physics and Electronics designed, constructed, remotely monitored, tested and displayed a solar thermal system.

“The beauty of this solar energy system,” Tšiu says, “is that we also developed a remote tracking system for it, to monitor its performance, wherever we are.”

“We eye water temperatures in the system and how well the system is working, on our cellphones and on the internet, at any time.”

The sheer brilliance of the system helped outsmart several entries by international researchers from around the world. It came second, in which Lesotho was beaten only by Canada.

Lesotho was among the only three winners of the competition.

The prestigious event was called “International Conference on Solar Technologies and Hybrid Mini Grids to Improve Energy Access,” organised by OTTI.

When the judges delivered their verdict, it was a culmination of an amazing work that took years and years to distill.

Tšiu, arguably one of Lesotho’s indisputable solar energy gurus, called the system Flat Plate Solar Thermal Energy Collector.

It is 100 percent made in Lesotho.

How does a product made in the often overlooked Lesotho convince judges from around the world? As they explained their decision, the judges mentioned three factors that captured their attention about the NUL made solar system.

It uses simple technology, performs just as good as complex commercial technologies internationally, and has the capacity to make an immediate impact on people’s lives.

Let us, for a moment, uncode the mystery of the judges’ decisions.

On the issue of simple technology, the system uses mostly locally available materials taken “off the counters” in Lesotho.

It is also deliberately designed to be reproducible using the simplest tools possible such that no expensive machinery is ever needed.

However, if you were to take a commercial Flat Plate Solar Thermal Energy Collector and compare it with the one made at the NUL, and measure their performances, you will be shocked to realise that it is just as competitive, if not better.

How does the system, as mentioned by the judges, have a potential to make an immediate impact on people’s lives? We don’t have to speculate here.

Take an 80-year-old woman from one village in Nazareth, Machache. She is the luckiest of the senior citizens to be the first to enjoy the benefits of NUL’s adventures into the technology.

When she wakes up, she fetches water from a distant well and brings it home. She just uses her basket to put the water into the solar thermal system. As she goes about her daily work, the system slowly picks up every bit of sunlight it can access and turns it into heat that heats up her water.

Within no time, the water is ready. She takes a bath, she washes clothes and dishes and she uses part of it to cook.

And suppose she wants to cooks “papa.” She brings the almost boiling water into the pot and, using a bio stove, applies a little heat and, the cooking begins. All from free energy!

Think about another dimension in which this brilliant process is assisting the woman. Water from open wells is normally not good to drink without boiling it. The system boils it for her — again — for free!

Tšiu then shed more light into the remote monitoring system: “We developed a tracking system that reports to us 24/7.”

“We can log into the system now and tell you the temperatures of the water. In fact we are able to monitor when the old lady puts in fresh cold water in the morning and how long it takes for the water to get to the right temperatures; we even see when she starts using the water!”

The system is so impressive that Tšiu has been invited to the University of Botswana (UB) to assist them in setting up a similar system of their own.

In the meantime, he says they have installed solar panels to provide not only power to their electronic system but to give the old lady enough power to provide light, listen to the radio and charge her cell phone.

“We also developed a tracking mechanism that will alert us if the thermal system is stolen and where it has been taken to at any moment,” he says.

If you had the privilege of being a “learned” judge in Germany, would you have reacted differently? You surely wouldn’t! And the “learned” judges, in Germany, didn’t either!

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