The Khanya Project of the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has installed the first solar-powered school computer laboratory in the Western Cape at Bernadino Heights Secondary School in Kraaifontein.
The lab was officially opened on Friday by Yousuf Gabru, MEC for Education in the Western Cape.
Khanya's task is to install and support technology to enhance teaching and learning in Western Cape schools.
Scarce energy and power resources, the effect of technology on the ecology and the ever-rising cost to consumers of energy and power, makes the launch of the first solar-powered computer laboratory in the Western Cape a significant event.
The increasingly important role of technology in society, mirrored by the growing number of schools at which Khanya has installed computer laboratories, places huge demands on the country's already overextended electricity resources. "It would be irresponsible of Khanya not to consider the impact on the environment," says programme manager Kobus van Wyk. "In solving an education problem the project is in danger of creating an environmental one."
Khanya has therefore worked hard at developing a solution for the problem their laboratories may create and solar power seems to be such a solution.
Khanya first began work on this pilot project about a year ago and Bernadino Heights Secondary was selected as the recipient of the first solar laboratory.
An exceptionally well-managed school that serves a poor community, Bernadino Heights is a school where Khanya would receive positive co-operation.
The selection of the school was vital to the success of the pilot project, the purpose of which was a proof of concept and Khanya needed to exclude any factors that could potentially bedevil the project.
The installation of the project – the solar part as well as the infrastructure and technology upgrades – was completed in the remarkable period of just one month.
Upgrades to the hardware have reduced the power usage to nearly a third of the power used by a traditional Khanya laboratory and this power is then solar generated. The system generates 18 units in winter and 30 in summer and it distributes its power at 3 Phase (380 volts) and not single phase (220 volts). This means that if the relevant authorities allow, the electricity meter of the school can be reversed so that the school can actually earn credits.
Security in the installation of the solar laboratory had to receive special attention – solar panels had to be placed out of direct view of the road to prevent vandalism and all cables have had to be buried underground to prevent cable theft.
The solar laboratory has been operating successfully for three months and, according to Khanya's implementation manager, Andre Pietersen, while no real difficulties have been experienced, the greatest challenge remains to try to reduce costs.
The focus of this pilot project was not, however, on finding a cheap solution, says Pietersen, but rather on determining that solar energy could be used to power a Khanya laboratory.
"The next phase for Khanya will be to concentrate on a more affordable model."
This laboratory will be a stepping stone in the rollout of energy-saving, environment-friendly technology installations. The solar powered laboratory has the potential to be of particular significance in rural areas where power and energy supply is often problematic if not non-existent.