GISAGARA – A solar lantern project, launched recently in Muganza Sector, Gisagara District, could improve the quality of life for residents.
The environmentally friendly solar lantern project especially meant for rural communities, which are not connected to the electric grid, was developed by the National University of Rwanda’s Faculty of Applied Sciences, in cooperation with the Cooper Union for the advancement of Arts and Sciences from the USA.
Addressing hundreds of excited onlookers who turned up to witness the launch of the product at Ndora Sector offices, Prof. Toby Cumberbatch from Cooper Union, said the project which was first implemented in the west African state of Ghana, aims at helping poor rural communities who are cut-off from the main grid.
“Our aim was to develop something that is simple and completely sustainable in all manners- cheap and cost effective and easily maintained so that people in rural communities can benefit tremendously from it.
We also wanted to give people the opportunity to partake in entrepreneurship,” said Prof. Cumberbatch.
Residents told The New Times that the solar lantern is seen as a replacement to wick-lamps which are in most cases expensive to run due to use of kerosene, yet they provide poor quality illumination, and degrade the quality of air we breathe.
“The production of the new lantern was long over due. We hope that it will be a cheap alternative and that we will be able to pay for it in instalments to acquire one,” said Silas Iyamuremye, a resident of Ndora.
The lantern will be availed to the local people through their various cooperative societies and associations at a fee- yet to be fixed by the local leadership after consultation with the beneficiaries.
“Communities will require some form of funds to sustain the project. Paying some little money will create a sense of ownership of the project,” said Dr Felix Akoril a lecturer in the Faculty of Applied Sciences at the NUR.
Dr Akorli, noted that the project aims at helping the needy in rural areas access light that is affordable and environmentally friendly.
“We want to bring to the rural people a cheap source of lighting which they can assemble using materials around them,” he said.
How the solar lantern works
The system comprises of a battery, light emitting diode, a circuit board, an integrated circuit (IC), and the solar panel.
The casing can be made from locally available materials like coffee tins, calabashes, milk tins, and old plastic bottles.
“A durable light emitting diode (LED) is the light source. The LED is connected with a little bit of circuitry to a very small LED acid battery.
In the design we tried to make the charge in the acid battery last as long as possible. A 6-hour charge provides about 20 hours of run-time at full brightness which is about 3 days,” he explained.
The lantern has a high power mode and low power mode, he added, where the latter lasts for a very long time. “The only weak link in the system is the battery. Everything else is virtually indestructible. The battery can last for four years.”
The users need to have a central sub-charging station. After using the lanterns for about three days, they bring these to the central charging station to recharge their batteries, which consists of one solar panel and one battery.
However, communities can be helped to set up charging points that are nearer to them.
Learning opportunity for students
According to Dr Akorli, the project is being channelled out through students which he said gives them hands on experience.
“Students have been able to learn on ground what they did not understand in class through helping people in rural areas far a way from the main electricity grid. If what we do as a university does not help the community then it is useless,” he remarked.
Dr Digne Rwabuhungu, the Dean of the Faculty of Applied science, disclosed that the project is in its infancy stage with hopes of being rolled out to other parts of the country.
The students also acknowledge the importance of the project to their learning experiences.
“It has been a learning experience for us. We have acquired vital skills which we will not only use to help the community but also enable us earn some income,” said Eugene Gasirabo, second year electrical engineering student.
Apart from lighting, Toby Cumberbatch pointed out that: “The solar lantern project is one example of what you can do to increase employment opportunities in communities. Students acquire an entrepreneurial trait which ultimately benefits the communities. You do not need aid or government to do it.”