EPICS in IEEE: Working Off Grid

Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) in IEEE are advancing technological innovation and making measurable social impacts, while addressing local community-service needs as they pertain to education and outreach, access and abilities, the environment, and human services. A look at a few EPICS in IEEE solar projects in Africa explores how philanthropy can be leveraged in ways that benefits local communities, and also empowers young people through practical, educational experiences based on applied engineering principles in the field.  Successful EPICS in IEEE projects such as these are proving to be a grassroots approach that fosters young students’ interest in engineering studies today and sows the seeds for the engineers that will serve the power industry for the future.   

La Palabre Project: Bringing New Light to Women’s Shelter

In Thiès, Senegal, the charity foundation “La Palabre” runs a shelter for women and children who have been victims of human rights abuse, creating a safe haven to overcome their situations, while improving their general knowledge and skill sets. An unreliable power supply in Thiès leads to frequent blackouts, making it difficult for the women and volunteers to pursue objectives in the dark and without the aid of computers.

Enter EPICS in IEEE; engineering students recruited from the IEEE Student Branch at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, and Humasol, a charitable foundation offering development in the engineering field. This collaborative team set out to implement a project for the design and construct of a small-scale, solar powered energy provisioning system to provide power to the La Palabre shelter.

Humasol, through coordination with IEEE and a local partner, provided professional guidance to the students in order to improve the general system design and make practical adjustments impacting the project’s implementation. What’s more, a partnership between the Belgian students and students from the “École Polytechnique” in Thiès was established to help source local support and materials. The Belgian students also shared the working principles of photovoltaic panels with the Senegalese students, with the goal to empower them to design and build their own systems in the future.

ieeeImage: Photovoltaic installation on the roof of the shelter. Credit S.K. Ramesh

The project resulted in a fully functioning solar powered energy system that provides reliable electrical supply to the La Palabre shelter. Energy is generated via a photovoltaic installation consisting of six self-constructed solar panels (see image) on the roof of the shelter—the solar cells supplied by the Belgian company Photovoltech. All other materials were sourced in Senegal through the work of students and a local partner in pursuit of a shared EPICS in IEEE and Humasol goal to “leave behind” the education, knowledge and resources that can lead to the local design, construct and maintenance of similar solar installations in the future.

Tujenge Kasiluni Project: Powering Education with Solar Energy

Until recently, only 200 school-aged children in Kasiluni, a remote town some 100 km from Nairobi, attended the single primary school located within a 25 km radius—a dilapidated building not connected to the national power grid and lacking a main water supply. The Tujenge Kasiluni project was initiated by the parents of the Kasiluni Primary School in collaboration with the Christian Union at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) to provide suitable learning facilities, sustainable sanitation facilities and clean drinking water at Kasiluni Primary School. Attendance at the rebuilt school brought new teachers, and attendance jumped to 400 students in Grades 1-6, but there were still issues that needed to be addressed relating to the school’s lack of power supply.

Working under the auspices of EPICS in IEEE, the IEEE Kenya Section Student Branch at JKUAT set out to leverage resources from IEEE and partners in Kenya to supplement the previous work and create a sustainable solar energy solution to meet Kasiluni Primary School’s electricity needs. A look at the project’s implementation underscores how EPICS in IEEE funding and participation builds partnerships that help ensure projects’ sustainability, while providing invaluable learning experiences for young people that also foster interest in engineering as a career choice.

The project to provide solar power to the Kasiluni Primary School involved 12 members of the IEEE Kenya Section Student Branch from the engineering school at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. Engineers from the sustainable energy division of TPower Technics Ltd., a leader in the delivery of electrical engineering solutions in East Africa, provided technical expertise for the project, with hands-on training and technical guidance for the IEEE volunteers.

The university students applied theoretical skills and also mentored participating high school students from Ngomeni Secondary School. Under supervision from TPower Technic engineers, students took an active role performing engineering calculations, preparing engineering drawings, and participated in the installation of equipment and materials. The JKUAT Christian Union served as the local project operations coordinator, liaising with the community at Kasiluni and students at Ngomeni Secondary School.

Outfitting the school with a solar power solution has provided lighting that has extended the utilization of the facilities with the addition of seventh- and eighth-year students, enabled power for new, electronic educational devices like laptops and computers, and extended working hours for teachers and administrators. During the project’s implementation, the young engineering students received training on solar technology and installation—experience and knowledge that can be brought to bear on future community projects.

EPICS in IEEE is helping to transform lives and advancing technology, while also helping provide experiences that will help motivate young people towards an education and career in the engineering field. The evolution of the SmartGrid is driving career opportunities in new areas related to power generation, storage and delivery that will require a new generation of engineers. Through its ongoing work, EPICS in IEEE is committed to support socially innovative, engineering-based projects that empower students, and that provide valuable learning experiences benefitting local communities. 

Click here to learn more about EPICS in IEEE.

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Dr. Ramesh, Dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science at California State University, Northridge since 2006, is the IEEE Vice-President for Educational Activities , as well as the IEEE-HKN President , and serves on the IEEE Educational Activities Board, the IEEE-HKN Board of Governors, and ABET Board of Delegates. A Fellow of the IEEE recognized for contributions to entrepreneurship in engineering education, Dr. Ramesh previously chaired the IEEE EAB Pre-University Coordinating Committee, leading signature programs such as TISP (Teacher in Service program) and EPICS (Engineering Projects in Community Service) in IEEE . He holds a BE (Honors) degree from the University of Madras, India, and MSEE and PhD degrees from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.  

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