About 2.5 years ago, senior research associate for the Engines and Energy Conversions Lab at CSU’s Energy Institute, Daniel Zimmerle, began investigating Rwanda’s electrification issues in collaboration with an agricultural sciences graduate student, Peter Means, who has worked extensively in Africa. Zimmerle’s passion for microgrid initiatives led him to what is now, a large-scale electrification project in Rwanda, Africa.
Currently, Rwanda’s grid expansion strategies don’t reach several thousand remote villages. The residents of these villages don’t have the luxury of flipping a switch to receive light or the ability to charge a cell phone. Limited access to electricity hinders these villages’ ability to develop their economies, and that’s where Zimmerle and his team want to make an impact.
With the support of the Rwandan government, Zimmerle’s team will design, build, and install Smart Village Microgrids. Cooperating with the University of Rwanda and technical training centers, the joint Rwandan-American team will train locals to operate the systems once complete. Initially, this model will be piloted in 2 villages consisting of 100-200 households each, with the hopes of eventually expanding to more than 3,000 villages. Establishing this project could take a decade, but Zimmerle and his team are determined.
“The goal isn’t electrification,” said Zimmerle. “The goal is development, and that is an inherently broad, cross-disciplinary challenge.” To tackle the complexity of this project, faculty from across campus have joined forces. Dr. Dale Manning, assistant professor in Agricultural and Resource Economics, is leading efforts to understand desired and optimal uses for electricity as well as electrification impacts. Eric Aoki in Communication Studies and Juyeon Park in Human Factors Design are looking at the challenges from a human-oriented perspective. Contributions from agriculture include identifying how energy and water can improve crop yields and farmer’s incomes. Dr. Thomas Bradley, Associate Director of Systems Engineering, is mapping out an international education program including both Rwandan and American students.
The project has received seed funding from the Catalyst for Innovative Partnerships offered by CSU’s Office of the Vice President for Research, funding streams initiated by the Rwandan Government, and sponsorships from non-governmental organizations.
Stay tuned for developments on this story.