Cape school gets solar-powered computer lab

Posted by Laura Grant on August 11, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

The Western Cape’s first solar-powered school computer lab was officially opened on Friday at Bernadino Heights Secondary School in Kraaifontein near Cape Town.

It is a pilot project of the Khanya Project of the Western Cape Education Department and, if successful, it holds great potential for bringing technology to schools in rural areas where power and energy supply is problematic or non-existent.

The Khanya project has installed technology to enhance teaching and learning in more than 900 schools in the province. But Bernadino Heights is the first to receive a computer lab that runs on renewable energy.

As electricity in South Africa becomes increasingly expensive, even schools with access to the power grid could benefit enormously from energy-saving technologies.

Khanya programme manager, Kobus van Wyk, added that it would also be irresponsible not to consider their labs’ impact on the environment. “Solar power was chosen as a way to solve and education problem without creating an environmental one,” he said.

The hardware at Bernadino Heights Secondary school has been upgraded so that it uses only a third of the power used by a traditional Khanya laboratory. It runs off a solar system that Khanya says generates 18 units in winter and 30 in summer and it distributes its power at 3 Phase (380 volts) and not single phase (220 volts). “This means that if the relevant authorities allow, the electricity meter of the school can be reversed so that the school can actually earn credits.” Feed-in systems are not yet allowed in South Africa.

The panels have been placed solar panels had to be placed out of direct view of the road to prevent vandalism and all cables have had to be buried underground to prevent cable theft.

The solar laboratory has been operating successfully for three months and, according to Khanya’s implementation manager, Andre Pietersen, with no real problems. The greatest challenge is to reduce costs. “The next phase for Khanya will be to concentrate on a more affordable model,” he said.

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