Cape school gets solar-powered lab

13 August 2008

The Bernadino Heights High School outside Cape Town has benefited from a government initiative that seeks to balance education with environmental responsibility, which has seen the school get a computer laboratory that is totally solar powered.

The Western Cape education department’s Khanya project, which is tasked with installing and supporting technology to enhance teaching and learning in the province’s schools, funded and built the laboratory in the town of Kraaifontein, on the northeast outskirts of Cape Town.

The increasingly important role of technology in society, the growing number of schools at which Khanya has installed computer laboratories, and energy constraints convinced the project that they had to look at alternate energy sources.

“It would be irresponsible of Khanya not to consider the impact on the environment,” said Kyanha programme manager Kobus van Wyk in a statement by the Western Cape education department last week.

“In solving an education problem, the project is in danger of creating an environmental one.”

In addition, relying on solar power means such laboratories can be deployed in rural areas without worrying about needing an electrical connection.

Members of the Khanyi project began working on a solar power pilot project about a year ago and Bernadino Heights was selected as the recipient of the first solar-powered computer laboratory.

“An exceptionally well managed school that serves a poor community, Bernadino Heights is a school where Khanya would receive positive co-operation,” the statement read.

Reduced power usage

According to the solar technology providers, Energy Efficient Options, the project consists of 60 solar panels, capable of producing 4 500 watts per hour, with a three-phase, nine kilowatt inverter capacity. Security was also a concern, and the solar panels had to be placed out of direct view of the road and all cables had to be buried to prevent vandalism or theft.

The energy is used to run the computer laboratory, which has 30 personal computers and a printer, and the administration room, which has eight personal computers, a fax machine, a photocopier and a printer.

The equipment being used in the laboratory was also upgraded to reduce power usage to nearly a third of what is used by a traditional Khanya computer laboratory.

Improving affordability

Khanya project’s implementation manger Andre Pietersen said that while no real difficulties were experienced during the pilot project, the greatest challenge remained to reduce costs.

However, he added that the focus of the current pilot project was not on finding a cheap solution, but rather to determine whether solar energy could be used to power a Khanya computer laboratory.

“The next phase of Khanya will be to concentrate on a more affordable model,” he said, adding that the new laboratory would be a stepping stone in the rollout of energy saving, environmentally friendly technology installations.

SAinfo reporter

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