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Student Design of a Sustainable Microgrid for Rural Kenya

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

ECCD International Outreach

Tagged Division

Energy Conversion and Conservation

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1413.1 - 26.1413.13



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Paper Authors


Henry Louie Seattle University

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Dr. Henry Louie received the B.S.E.E. degree from Kettering University, the M.S. degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the PhD degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Washington in 2008. He is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Seattle University. Dr. Louie is a founding member and current Secretary of the IEEE Power & Energy Society (PES) Working Group on Sustainable Energy Solutions for Developing Communities. He was the technical program co-chair of the 2012 IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference. Since 2011, he has been the IEEE PES Vice President of Membership & Image. He is a Distinguished Lecturer of the IEEE on the topics of energy poverty and remote community microgrids.

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Steve Szablya Seattle University

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Steve Szablya received a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Washington State University in 1983 and an MBA degree from Washington State University in 1985 and is a licensed Professional Engineer in the state of Washington. He is an adjunct professor at Seattle University for the Electrical and Computer Engineering department advising senior design projects, including humanitarian projects for which he co-authored several papers with Dr. Henry Louie. He has installed several off grid systems in Africa and is member of the IEEE Community Solutions Initiative, finding appropriate energy solutions for impoverished communities off the power grid.

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Agnieszka Miguel Seattle University

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Agnieszka Miguel joined the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Seattle University in the Fall of 2004. Dr. Miguel received her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering in 2001 from the University of Washington, and MSEE and BSEE from Florida Atlantic University in 1996 and 1994. Dr. Miguel¹s research interests involve image processing, pattern recognition, machine learning, wavelets, and image and video compression. She is passionate about active learning and strategies to improve electrical and computer engineering education, as well as increasing the number of women in engineering. She is a PI on an NSF S-STEM ECE Scholars grant, which provides scholarships and academic support to financially needy and academically strong transfer students. Dr. Miguel¹s teaching interests include MATLAB, circuits, linear systems, signal processing, digital image processing,
and data compression. Dr. Miguel is a member of the IEEE, ASEE, SWE, and Tau Beta Pi. She has held several officer positions within the American Society for Engineering Education (Campus Representative, 2012-2013 ECE Division Chair, and 2013-2015 Chair Elect of the ASEE PNW Section).

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Student Design of a Sustainable Microgrid for Rural KenyaAbstractA lack of regular access to electricity is a persistent and stifling challenge for nearly 600 millionpeople living in rural Sub-Saharan Africa. Elimination of this form of energy poverty requires asubstantial mobilization of capital—some US$300 billion by some estimates—and a workforceof engineers that are trained and prepared to design and implement technical solutions in thecontext of Less Economically Developed Countries (LEDCs).This paper describes a senior undergraduate electrical engineering capstone project in which thestudents gained first-hand experience designing solutions for LEDCs. In particular, the fourstudents designed and installed a 5 kW hybrid wind/solar isolated microgrid system that provideselectricity to families in rural Muhuru Bay, Kenya. The proposed paper describes the system indetail, and how the students learned about and navigated through complex technical and non-technical constraints and considerations, culminating in the successful in-country installation inAugust 2014.The microgrid provides electricity to approximately 65 families in Muhuru Bay, as well as theheadmaster of Kristy’s Cape Academy (KCA), the local primary school. The school andsurrounding area have no grid connection, which hampers the instructors and prevents thestudents from studying in the evening.In addition to supplying electricity to the headmaster’s house, the system supports a “communitycharging station” model of electricity distribution. In this model, families with students at KCArent Portable Battery Kits (PBKs) from the community charging station and bring them home atnight to power lights and recharge small devices such as cellular phones and radios. The systemalso uses basic telemetry: it uses the local cellular network to provide microgrid data to theuniversity for research. Specific technical details of the system will be provided in the paper.The students designed the system and documented its technical specifications. This includeddetermining the capacities of the solar panels, wind turbines and station batteries; developingcomponent specifications for controllers and converters; and designing the complete wiringdiagram.Students gained broad knowledge from the project. As described further in the paper, studentslearned how to design for sustainability in the context of LEDCs, considering technical,economic, social, environmental, and organization aspects of the project. Examples includeinterpreting and conforming to international and local electrical codes, obtaining buy-in from thelocal community and understanding the importance of revenue generation in prolonging projectlifespan.

Louie, H., & Szablya, S., & Miguel, A. (2015, June), Student Design of a Sustainable Microgrid for Rural Kenya Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24750

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