The end of June saw the completion of a three-stage commissioning check of the microgrid and solar street lights design interventions In Rwanda. Led by two members of the HEED team from Coventry University, Dr Jonathan Nixon, a Senior Lecturer at Coventry University based in the Fluids and Complex Systems Research Centre, and Daniel Bammeke, a doctoral candidate, the first stage of the commissioning checks were performed at Coventry University using data gathered remotely. These checks saw Jonathan and Daniel analyse the data collected so far from all three camp sites to detect any system anomalies in preparation for their on-site inspections in the Kigeme, Gihembe and Nyabiheke refugee camps in Rwanda.
Jonathan and Daniel subsequently flew to Rwanda to deliver the second stage of commissioning checks. Their aim was to perform vital tests on the interventions to address damaged devices. These on-site inspections are key to the success of the project as by rigorously checking, including a visual inspection of the devices and activating control signals in situ, it ensures the control systems are functional and can continue to produce robust, transparent data.
In Kigeme camp, the microgrid design intervention is a micro-grid system designed to provide two nursery schools and a playground with power via lighting and sockets. In Nyabiheke refugee camp, a community hall is the site for the micro-grid intervention, which provides power for the lighting and sockets. In both locations, the monitoring and control systems are incorporated into the micro-grid, which HEED uses to collect system and usage data and execute control commands. Placing these interventions in communal buildings allows HEED to understand how communities use energy and could potential predict the level of energy required to maintain institutional and civic structures in the refugee context.
The focus of the site inspection of Gihembe refugee camp was to perform commissioning checks on twelve solar powered streetlights, four of which are multifunctional. The four multifunctional street lights are an innovative solution to energy poverty as each of the four solar powered streetlights have the ability to store excess energy generation. This means, for example, electrical items, such as mobile phones, can be charged by using the sockets attached to the streetlight. The multifunctional streetlight, just like the microgrids, also have monitoring and control systems incorporated in their designs, that allow HEED to gather data on usage.
In addition, after overseeing the transfer of operations from suppliers, MESHPower, to HEED governance, Jonathan and Daniel spent time in Kigali delivering training to contractors on the maintenance of the systems.
After successfully completing the on-site checks, the final step of the commissioning checks saw Jonathan and Daniel return back to Coventry, where they sent remotely controlled signals to the respective intervention designs. This confirmed whether systems’ issues were fixed or it was necessary to contact camp-based contractors to implement solutions. According to Jonathan, the visit to Rwanda provided not only an opportunity to resolve issues with operating systems but also a to transfer knowledge:
‘Building time into the project means I am able to work with energy suppliers and train contractors on renewable energy systems and micro grids. This allows the HEED project the platform to promote renewable energy systems modelling and optimisation as a viable option in the displaced context.
More importantly, I feel that as humanitarian engineering has a significant role in combating energy poverty through cost-effective carbon reduction solutions, we need to encourage community engagement with the process. When we understand how vital the role of renewable energy has in addressing energy poverty, then we will begin to see increased economic development, ways to improve social welfare and a fairer distribution of resources’