Smart Meters and Solar Drying Innovation for Uniport

By Whitney Pailman, 31st May

University of Port Harcourt teams showcase innovative projects for this year’s Efficiency for Access Design Challenge. 

The Efficiency for Access Design Challenge, a global multi-disciplinary competition, brings together university teams from across the globe to participate in the annual challenge to develop innovations that promote the efficiency of off-grid inclusive appliances.

In this year’s Efficiency for Access Design Challenge, the University of Port Harcourt (a TEA-LP partner University) in Nigeria, has two participating teams from their Masters in MSc in Energy Access and Renewable Energy Technology. Team 2022-18 and Team 2022-25. In Team 2022-18, team members include: Benneth Oyinna, Lois David and Charles Adiman. Team 2022- 25 comprises Negedu Isaac Onunche, Paul Amadi and Elijah Agbedion. The two team’s topics represent diverse approaches to tackling energy access and related challenges: from developing a new remote monitoring metering system (Team 2022-18) to developing a solar dryer (Team 2022-25).

Team 2022-18 :Benneth Oyinna, Lois David and Charles Adiman

Team 2022-25: Negedu Isaac Onunche, Paul Amadi and Elijah Agbedion

Explaining the energy access context in Nigeria, which motivated their topic, Benneth Oyinna commented that many energy access challenges relate closely to energy efficiency, and this inspired their project on ‘A Stand-alone solar monitoring system with advanced metering infrastructure’.

“In the course of our studies, we’ve been able to identify challenges that have to do with energy access. Most of the problems are around energy efficiency and management, and remote managing. All these challenges tend to increase operational costs of renewable energy projects.”

“The entire project in summary is to help consumers keep an eye on their consumption. The developers, or the owners of the project can, also keep an eye on customer payments, cost and consumption with low control measures for energy efficiency and management.”

“We also intend to build a customer relationship management system that generates dockets for smart meters to function.  Lastly, we have incorporated an anti-tamper mechanism which completely has reduced energy debt.”

Isaac Negedu (from Team 2022-25) explained their ‘Solar Dryer’ project, which also draws inspiration from the broader energy access context surrounding the University of Port Harcourt:

“We are working on a solar dryer. This idea was vetted from the challenge of drying within the vicinity of Port Harcourt, around the rural areas where we have a lot of crayfish production. Seeing that challenge and the carbon pollution coming out from that process,  this was a major concern.”

“We decided to address this issue by coming up with a smart system where we can look at other models of dryers that have been built before. Having a kind of a smart system that can dry different items apart from the fish drying.  Customers will not only buy it for fish drying, but they can also use it to dry grains and other things. We have a control system, that will be programmed with temperature control measures.

Reflecting on first hearing about the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge, Benneth explained:

“We came to know about the challenge through Dr. Ruona, the coordinator of the postgraduate program, MSc in Energy Assess and Renewable Energy Technology.”

“It was quite interesting to know that this challenge is an international challenge, and in the knowledge space learning from other people is a great thing. We’re very happy that we’ll be having opportunities to interact with other people from different parts of the world – to share ideas during the different interactive sessions. It has been wonderful.”

Benneth explained how the Challenge was an opportunity to validate and test ideas to address pertinent energy access challenges:

“This program was an avenue to validate the solutions. We are not just on this solving an indigenous problem, we’re solving a global problem. Energy access is a global challenge.”

Similarly, Isaac expressed:

‘The Challenge has actually been a mind blowing one’.

Benneth further elaborated on the value of the feedback received through the mentorship process, and the need to embed contextual considerations in the design of energy access technologies and solutions:

“Understanding the environment is key. The approaches differ from one segment of the country to another. So, the Challenge has opened our eyes to the fact that what works in location A, is not working in location B. So, there is a lot of analysis that you need to conduct for the different locations you want to deploy the solutions. “

“There are lots of different webinars that have been organized, that have opened our eyes to what deployed solutions look like in any part of the world.”

Benneth explained how the Challenge process has emphasised the importance of evaluating a solution.

 “So, our major takeaway is, as much as we are so eager to develop solutions, there is need also to evaluate those solutions. We have a lot of problems as Engineers in Nigeria. You want to solve energy access problems, but at the same time there are so many issues that have to do with energy efficiency management and energy conservation.

To take innovations forward beyond the Challenge – partnerships are important to develop innovations further, as Benneth noted.

“There are a lot of collaborations that we need to build. We are developing this solution to have an API that could be compatible with the different manufacturers and platforms.”

The participants expressed their gratitude to the TEA Learning Partnership for the valuable opportunity to take part in the Challenge. As Isaac expressed:

 “We want to thank the Transforming Energy Assess Learning Partnership, for this opportunity to participate in this program and this challenge.”

The Efficiency for Access Design Challenge Grand Final took place on 15 June 2023, and we wish to congratulate the participating teams.