Guest Post By Michael Mang’enya
Strathmore University has installed a 1MW grid-connected system making it the largest such solar project in the whole of Africa and the first carbon neutral university in the region.
The system which is the first commercially viable grid connected system in Kenya meets the University’s annual electricity demand of 1,228,016 kWh and more excess power that the university sells to the power grid.
“We were able to deliver the project one month ahead of schedule and more importantly reduced project cost payback period from 10 to 7 years,” says Raul Figueroa, the project manager of the project and the Executive Director of Questworks, the implementing firm.
Strathmore University’s Solar project reduces CO2 emission by 6.2Million to 7.8Million Kgs of CO2 in its life which is equivalent to about saving the cutting of 21,000 to 26,000 trees. It save the university between Sh1.5m to Sh2m in electricity costs every month.
A PV solar power plant converts UV rays form the sun into electricity. The UV rays are captured by solar panels and converted from direct current to alternative current by inverters.
The system is composed of 2,400 solar panels and 30 inverters spread over the rooftops of the university’s six buildings within the SU campus.
The system is accessed through ladders and catwalks that were designed in to ensure the system can be cleaned and maintained easily. Daily power production is 2.2 to 2.8 megawatt hours and is monitored at panel level.
A cutting edge monitoring software allows people working on the project to login and monitor power produced by each panel on a real time basis, allowing for any potential problems to be spotted and corrected early.
The university installed the system with the help of green funds obtained at concessionary rates from Cooperative bank.
The process to installing the system started in January 2013 when the private higher institution of learning tendered invited proposals from pre-selected local and international companies for the design, supply, installation and commissioning of a turn-key roof-mounted IMW grid-connected solar PV system.
Although five companies, four international and one local, submitted their bids for installation and maintenance of the system, all the bids were higher than the expected budget.
As a result, the university in July last year contracted Questworks, a real estate project management consulting company in Kenya, as project manager for the SU solar project with a mandate to conduct a detailed feasibility study.
The study involved finding out the real power needs of SU , coming up with a system size that meets the university’s power needs and one that was affordable.
Questworks achieved efficiency through competitive sourcing of system components, optimisation of system size and using a series of small interconnected modules rather than one large monolithic system.
Similar solar plants in Kenya include one at UNEP headquarters made up of solar panels mounted on the ground that delivers 500 KW and Williamson tea factory’s 1 MW solar system.