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Humanitarian Engineering: Students Upgrade Hydropower System in Rwanda

Students from Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering (DHE) returned to Rwanda last summer to continue bringing small-scale hydropower systems to rural villages. Half the group went to Banda to check on the system installed by DHE in 2008. The other half worked in and around Kigali to assess sites for building more hydropower systems so people don’t have to walk long distances to charge cell phones and batteries.

From left, Ted Sumers ’12, Wouter Zwart ’14, Emily Porter ’10 Th’11, Joey Anthony ’12, and Rwandan students at Kigali Institute of Science and Technology.
From left, Ted Sumers ’12, Wouter Zwart ’14, Emily Porter ’10 Th’11, Joey Anthony ’12, and Rwandan students at Kigali Institute of Science and Technology. Photograph courtesy of Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering.

Since a previous student-built welded turbine had rusted away, the Banda team replaced it with a cast turbine that was made by Emily Porter ’10 Th’11, Caitlin Johnson ’10 Th’11, and Nicholas Edwards ’10 Th’11 as an ENGS 89/90 design course project. The Banda team built a casing to protect the new turbine and electrical wiring from spray and leakage. The team also wrote a trouble-shooting and procedural manual for the hydropower system, which Kigali Institute of Science and Technology students translated.

Meanwhile, the Kigali team partnered with CARE International to install hydropower systems in other parts of Rwanda. “People recognized CARE International and were happy to see us,” says Ted Sumers ’12. He and Joey Anthony ’12 assessed 30 sites before they earmarked one for a future turbine installation—which won’t happen until DHE is certain that the new turbine design in Banda is reliable and maintainable and therefore worth duplicating.

Porter believes that DHE’s work in Rwanda has already had an impact. “The fact that we came and did our best and showed our support for them as engineers inspired people,” she says. “If you have all the engineering but you don’t have the human part, it doesn’t work. That’s why this project is an incredible success for our group.”

She’s not the only one who thinks so. DHE’s pico-hydro project won one of five Outstanding Student Humanitarian Prizes in the 2011 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Presidents’ Change the World Competition. “Out of 209 entries your project captured the true spirit of the competition ‘to develop a unique solution to a real world problem using engineering, science, computing and leadership skills to benefit humanity,’” the IEEE stated in a letter to DHE. The prize includes $1,000 for future DHE projects.

—Annelise Hansen

Categories: The Great Hall, Humanitarian Engineering

Tags: design, energy, humanitarian service, international, projects, students

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