Researchers working to expand rural hydro project in Ethiopia

Two Schulich researchers have their eyes set on bringing their small-scale power system to Ethiopia after success in providing electricity to a rural village in Nepal.

By Sarah McGinnis

December 2015

David Wood and Ed Nowicki from the Schulich School of Engineering have worked collaboratively with a Nepalese group to create a system that diverts water from a nearby river to generate electricity for local homes.

Before their efforts, residents were exposed to unhealthy smoke from the materials they were burning to heat food and light their homes.

After talks with their partners, Wood and Nowicki created a controller for each home that could monitor their energy use so that excess energy could be then be diverted to other needs, such as pasteurizing water and cooking food. Wood is currently working with a PhD student from Nepal on improvements to the cross-flow turbine to facilitate manufacturing in the developing world.

“It can be used for things like powering computers at schools. It can be used to develop local craft industries. It means their kids or their grandkids can study properly because they have good light,” says Wood, NSERC/Enmax Professor of Renewable Energy and professor of mechanical and manufacturing engineering.

The northern part of Ethiopia is mountainous with a lot of remote villages and rivers, making it a landscape very similar to the region of Nepal where the first pilot was launched. Nowicki and Wood are now in initial stages of efforts to see if their project could be extended to Ethiopia as well.  Last year both of them lectured in an MSc program on renewable energy in Addis Ababa.

Research that makes a difference

Their project is just the latest example of efforts underway at the Schulich School to support research that makes a difference.

“The Schulich School of Engineering is a wonderful promoter of global engineering. I can come to the school and I can teach and I can tinker knowing that what we’re doing is something that is going to help people all over the world,” says Nowicki, associate director of the Centre for Environmental Engineering Research and Education and associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Research that makes a difference is a key pillar in the Schulich School’s five year strategic plan Energizing Engineering Leadership.

The Schulich School is going to increase our focus on the impact of our discoveries, on measuring our research successes and on increasing our international leadership, explains Dean Bill Rosehart.

“We are going to create collaborative teams composed of faculty, staff, students and industry who will work together to meet some of the biggest challenges of our time. We are going to expand knowledge and understanding and we are going to share our discoveries and expand knowledge to ultimately help people down the street or around the globe,” Rosehart says.

‘Inspiring me to carry on’

Working for a school so focused on using research to make a real and lasting impact on the lives of others has definitely helped motivate Wood and Nowicki.  

“Projects like this one are inspiring me to carry on and keep doing this kind of work. As long as I can do this kind of work I would stay at Schulich forever,” says Nowicki. 

 

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