University’s ‘Solar Flower’ to charge students’ cellphones


UNIVERSITY students in the Free State will soon be able to charge their cellphones and tablets by harnessing solar power, which allows smart devices to run for longer and costs nothing.

With power utility Eskom urging consumers to reduce electricity consumption, particularly in the winter months when reserve margins are low, the faculty of engineering and information technology at the Central University of Technology (CUT) in the Free State has come up with an innovative way to reduce electricity consumption on its campus.

The university recently unveiled a prototype of the Solar Flower, which will allow students to charge their electronic devices via solar-powered USB ports anywhere on campus.

Acting dean of the faculty of engineering and information technology, Herman Vermaak, said the idea for this innovation, the first of its kind in South Africa, was born out of the increase in the use of electronic devices by students.

“We saw a marked increase in the daily use of electronic equipment by students. With this increase, the idea came to develop a device that harnesses energy from a renewable source and gives students an easy, accessible and free recharging facility,” said Prof Vermaak.

The prototype will now be placed at charging stations all over campus to ensure that students can recharge whenever they need to and do not run out of battery power at a crucial time.

“The Solar Flower is a portable hub which can be set up anywhere, and will be able to charge up to four smart devices. It will be set up around campus at recreational venues and convenient places for students,” said Prof Vermaak.

The Solar Flower was designed and developed by the CUT engineering team, while the steel construction of the device was done at the mechanical workshop at the university’s Bloemfontein campus.

After the pilot phase on campus, the Solar Flower will be rolled out mainly in the surrounding community and rural schools first, in order to promote the new courses in the field of sustainable and renewable energy that will be made available at CUT.

The two new courses, which will start next year and 2015 respectively, will be run by CUT’s department of electrical, electronic and computer engineering. The first is a higher certificate in renewable energy technologies and the second a diploma in sustainable energy.

Prof Vermaak said technicians who graduate from these new courses would be able to, upon entering the job market, have the technical knowledge and skills to conceptualise, install and maintain renewable innovations.

Dan Maritz, director for communications and marketing at CUT, said the new courses came about after engaging a variety of stakeholders in the renewable energy sector, to ensure the qualification was not just another degree.

“We offer a qualification that will get graduates jobs,” he said.


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