Electricity challenges a top issue at African engineering innovation competition

29 April 2016 - 10:00 By TMG Digital

Engineering innovations to boost off-grid power and stop electricity theft‚ along with managing heart disease and support for parents‚ have been selected as the four finalists in the prestigious Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. The finalists from Cameroon‚ Kenya‚ South Africa and Uganda were chosen for their ability to apply engineering to solve problems for people across the continent‚ according to a statement by the UK Royal Academy of Engineering.The South African finalist is a team led by Johannesburg accountant Matt Wainwright. It is revolutionising the way energy is distributed and sold in Africa. Standard Microgrid’s first pilot is currently running on a rural test site in Mugurameno‚ Zambia.Built into a shipping container for easy transport to remote areas‚ the system draws energy from solar panels and takes an entire utility solution to rural users‚ typically in a small village.Instead of selling energy by kilowatt hours‚ Standard Microgrid uses a mathematical model to sell energy according to its use. There are different rates for lighting at night or to charge a phone during the day.It means that medicines can be kept safely chilled in rural areas‚ and businesses can run mobile connections to the internet. The innovation enables African villages‚ years from being connected to the national grid‚ to have reliable power within just a few weeks.In Uganda‚ finalist Eddie Aijuka has developed Kamata‚ a device to solve a massive problem of electricity theft in Africa.Kamata will be piloted from June this year. The device is mounted on energy supply points outside a house and detects any tampering or other irregular activity. It then alerts a control centre. Kamata allows electricity supply companies to remotely cut power off at properties where tampering is detected.In Cameroon‚ where there are roughly 50 cardiologists for 22 million citizens‚ Arthur Zang combined medical diagnostics with customised software and hardware to change the way rural Africans access heart doctors.The Cardio-Pad earned Zang a place in the finals for its ability to conduct cardiovascular diagnostics from anywhere in the world. A Cardio-Pad tablet‚ much like an iPad‚ is designed to be connected to a heart patient for tests conducted by ordinary doctors or nurses in rural areas. The results are sent to a cardiologist via a cellular network‚ and a diagnosis returned within 20 minutes.The Totohealth innovation team‚ led by Felix Kimaru‚ is transforming family health in Kenya with more than 21‚000 parents already signed up.Young mothers subscribe to Totohealth via a network of healthcare workers‚ clinics and non-government organisations. The web-based system keeps record of their pregnancy and childbirth‚ and parents then receive a bi-weekly text message which guides them at each stage of their child’s development.Irregularities can be quickly identified by parents‚ even in areas with low awareness of maternal and child health‚ and where healthcare facilities are out of reach. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest risk of death in the first month of a child’s life‚ and the highest death rate among newborn children. Kimaru and his team believe that by improving access to medical information‚ Totohealth can help African parents to make more informed decisions.“The four finalists represent the cream of African engineering innovation‚” said Africa Prize judge Moses Musaazi.The winner will be selected for the business potential of the innovation and its impact on people.“We are looking for an innovation with potential for high impact on the lives of people in sub-Saharan Africa‚” Musaazi said.The finalists are now preparing for an exhibition of their innovations in London‚ and the final awards in Dar es Salaam on 26 May 2016. The overall winner will receive 25‚000 British pounds‚ with 10‚000 pouds awarded to each of the runners up.The next Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation is now open for applicants from sub-Saharan Africa who have developed innovations that can provide scalable solutions to local challenges. Applications close at midnight on 27 June 2016‚ and shortlisted applicants will receive a six-month package of tailored support to help them achieve commercial success for their business.Prospective applicants can go to: www.raeng.org.uk/AfricaPrize- Amongst the other eight entrepreneurs on the Africa Prize shortlist‚ who each received six months of training and mentoring to progress their businesses‚ was Werner Swart of South Africa. His Drylobag is designed to dry and store grain. Wet grain goes mouldy‚ but the Drylogbag prevents this by reducing the grain temperature and drying it evenly. It prevents loss of food stocks and enables farmers to harvest earlier.This reduces the risk of hail damage and crops being eaten by wildlife‚ and helps farmers get crops to market earlier. The system is designed to preserve grain and oil seeds even in the high humidity typical of Africa’s most fertile regions.

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