A group of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) engineering students from Kicukiro District have built a three-seater solar-powered prototype car that they hope can be a solution to the effects of global warming due to gas emissions.
The 10 students, from Sinhgad Technical Education Society-Rwanda (STES Rwanda), are hopeful that the model car is the beginning of locally-made vehicles that can use solar energy.
The advantages of the solar car, according to the students, are that it has no emissions (it is green) and is cost-effective.
The charging capacity depends on the capacity of the panel.
Arsene Simbi, 22, is one of the engineering students behind the idea. The fourth year student in Electrical Engineering says they sought to play a part in addressing effects of global warming and high cost of buying fuel.
He says the idea started with research, before doing design works.
The students also acquired training from Sinhgad Technical Education Society India.
While in India, the students participated in a solar car challenge where they emerged third out of 15 groups that participated and returned home with trophy, according to the institution’s administration.
However, the car that was used in the competition in India was left there. Fresh from the training, the students started their project of designing and developing a solar car, which was unveiled earlier this month.
“There is a combination of many things. First, there are solar panels which are getting sunrise and are directly converted into electricity, then it goes to the batteries that store the energy from the sun and again the batteries are connected through the controller that runs the car,” explains Simbi.
“Actually, we designed this car from scratch. We just purchased the solar panels, the motor, the tyres and then we made the whole structure. All the required calculations, for the capacity, the speed is 40 kilometres per hour. When fully charged it can run without the sun for up to five hours.”
He said the idea was conceived in seeking a solution to current global challenges.
“The first challenge is global warming and the second is the running cost of the cars that run on fuel, so these were two solutions to kill with one stone and we are hopeful that, in the future, we will be producing these kinds of cars,” Simbi says.
“This is where we are focusing, we are not just stopping here but looking for bigger productions.”
He cited lack of raw materials among their challenges, much as 80 per cent of what they used was purchased from Rwanda.
Skills earned from class
Kevin Kabera, 24, a student of Computer Engineering, says his role was to design and build the system used in a car. He says he largely acquired the skills from the institution and others from available sources online.
“There different innovations in the same way we have different technologies in regular cars and many other technologies that we need. There are more technical skills involved, mostly programming like display the weather, and we display different information to the driver so that we assure that our car is running safely,” he says.
He said the competition was a bit tight.
“It was the first time for our team, we were a team of 10 students, the competition was mainly about designing and building a solar vehicle. We built it and were able to complete that competition and win prizes,” Kabera says.
“We are going to exhibit this car and hope that we will get feedback from concerned people. Then we will start manufacturing solar cars for Rwandans and for other people,” he adds.
According to Kiyengo Nzitonda, STES Rwanda founder, their students are trained to design and think critically.
“We stimulate students to do things, training them from scratch. We have 10 students who made the solar car but some of them are still in their first year. The solar car was made at a cost of Rwf2 million but it can cost at least Rwf3 million when complete,” he said, adding that the warranty is as long as other cars as metals do not get damaged easily.
He said that, with partnership with other players, the university is hoping to create a solar car plant to deal with the high cost of fuel and the global warming effect.
To deal with effects of global warming, experts argue that there is need for greening transportation as emissions have increased at a faster rate than any other energy-using sector over the past decade.
They say that a variety of solutions are at hand, including improving efficiency (miles per gallon) in all modes of transport, switching to low-carbon fuels, and reducing vehicle miles traveled through smart growth and more efficient mass transportation systems.
There is also need for reviving renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and bioenergy as they are available around the world. Multiple studies have shown that renewable energy has the technical potential to meet the vast majority of our energy needs.
Renewable technologies can be deployed quickly, are increasingly cost-effective, and create jobs while reducing pollution.