Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Service to Humanity: Micro Hydro-Power

By Kathryn LoConte

POWER TO THE PEOPLE: From left, Giancarlo Nucci ’07 Th'08, Zoe Acher ’08, and Manaure Francisquez Rodriguez ’11 work on a micro hydro-power system in Rwanda that is generating interest from several villages. Photograph courtesy of Dartmouth HELP.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE: From left, Giancarlo Nucci ’07 Th'08, Zoe Acher ’08, and Manaure Francisquez Rodriguez ’11 work on a micro hydro-power system in Rwanda that is generating interest from several villages. Photograph courtesy of Dartmouth HELP.

Seven students working as part of Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering Leadership Projects (HELP) Worldwide have successfully implemented a micro hydro-power system in the village of Banda, Rwanda. Using the area’s natural water resources, Dartmouth engineers designed and built two hydro-powered turbines that can generate enough power to charge the batteries community members use for home lighting. The technology saves villagers from walking 27 miles each way to the nearest city on the electric grid to charge their batteries.

The project, started in 2008, made a point of using local materials and involving local residents in the work, according to Ben Koons ’08 Th’09, president of HELP.

“Acquiring local materials was pretty interesting,” he says. “There are these big scrap markets in the nearby city of Kigali, hundreds of tiny one-room stores. We’d spend days trying to find specific parts, find bearings, an axel that fits. Then it would be hours haggling. One time I spent three hours finding a whole bunch of plumbing and electrical supplies, and then another three hours bartering. And I guess I went too low, because the guy just stormed off with all the wares. Then there was three hours of frantically running around the scrap yard all over again. It’s pretty exciting, but tiring, too.”

Another stipulation set by the students was to use local labor, which served to provide community members with employment as well as familiarize them with the technology.

“We were employing up to 35 people in the course of several months,” says Koons. “And the ultimate goal of this project is to have these systems spread naturally without any foreign aid, to have trained local technicians, managers, and entrepreneurs who can run this as a small business with a local energy producer. Then it would just fit naturally into the economic framework.”

Looking forward, HELP aims to have the Banda micro-hydro project act as a working model for future sites in surrounding communities. “With every successful project, I’d like there to be less and less involvement from us and more involvement from trained locals,” says Koons.

That reality is not far off. Members of bordering communities have inquired about implementing the technology in their own villages.

Zoe Acher on HELP

—Kathryn LoConte is assistant editor at Dartmouth Engineer.

For more photos, visit our Dartmouth HELP Collection on Flickr.

Categories: The Great Hall, Service to Humanity

Tags: energy, humanitarian service, students

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