UCF Students Bring Renewable Energy to South African Township

UCF Students Bring Renewable Energy to South African Township

UCF students are developing sustainable energy platforms that will power a South African community center.

Residents of the Pomolong township in South Africa soon will see their homes in a whole new light thanks to the ingenuity of students from the University of Central Florida.

As part of the Burnett Honors College’s newest study-abroad program, senior design engineering students at UCF are developing sustainable energy platforms that will power Pomolong’s community center. Accompanied by Dean Alvin Wang and Associate Dean Martin Dupuis, 15 students will travel to South Africa for three weeks this summer to implement their designs and participate in other service-learning projects.

Last March, Wang and Dupuis visited South Africa, where the college already had strong partners, and were asked to create an educational program. In Pomolong, a new partnership was born, which included the Swinburne Sustainability Center and Conservancy, as well as Sunfire Solutions.

“The township of Pomolong asked that their community center have energy, so that they would have lights, be able to show movies, and be able to provide some education in that facility, which right now would be a great challenge, because that township is off the grid,” said Wang. “There is no power, so that is where our senior design students come into play.”

The Burnett Honors College selected five teams of senior design students that are each working on separate projects for Pomolong. The projects focus on solar and wind power and power management and storage.

“We’ve been pulling knowledge from our previous three years of training to build the turbine, but we’re building a pictorial manual that will be provided to the township members so that they can understand how it works and be able to maintain it even when we’re not there,” said senior mechanical engineering student Kelly Cox, whose team is building a wind turbine.

The service-learning program will include senior design students and non-engineering honors students who applied for the program.

At the Swinburne Sustainability Center and Conservancy, students will rotate between projects, including an oral history project in which students will interview local healers about the plants they use as well as a facilities upgrade at Swinburne Elementary School. Students also will have the opportunity to work with captive cheetahs at the Nambiti Game Preserve.

The sustainable-energy projects are limited to senior design students but may require the efforts of the non-engineering students, as well.

“There probably will be a bit of manual labor involved in setting everything up that won’t require a lot of engineering knowledge or education, so I think when everyone pitches in, including the non-engineering students, we’ll be able to get our product delivered in a timely manner and have it work well,” said Michael Jones, another senior mechanical engineering student who is working on the wind turbine.

The group will leave for Johannesburg on May 8 and will stay at the SSCC for the duration of the trip. The area offers historic tours, water sports, mountain climbing and other activities. Students also will have the chance to take excursions to Johannesburg, Lesotho and the city of Durban, which is on the Indian Ocean.

“After many months of work and then putting all of that together on the ground in South Africa, I think it’s going to be a magical moment when they flip the switch and that light bulb comes on,” said Wang. “That really is the best way of experiencing another culture and other people– when you have a shared goal that everyone is working toward. This is not at all like an international experience in which you are watching the country through the windows of a bus.”

For more information about the study-abroad program, visit http://honors.ucf.edu/students/about-the-south-africa-program/.