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Five UNN students share story how they defied hunger to build solar energy inverters

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Building hardware is hard, but a spark of believe that with technology, plans, visions and dreams, constant energy supply is possible for Nigerians to enjoy, five University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) undergraduates embarked on ‘alternative energy grid’ project.

With 75 planning applications; 39 trained professionals and two offices, Nwangele Godwin Chukwuemeka;Okereke Kingsley; Esumeh Aaron; Udeh Isaac Nnaemeka and Ogechukwu Uchechukwu Emmanuel, have already completed 38 projects under Greenage Technology.

TechEconomy.ng had a chat with the team represented by Uchechukwu Emmanuel to understand the drives behind the project and areas they need support. Excerpt.

How was the idea conceived?

It all started with some boys who had big dreams of making solar energy available for people to use at home since it is already in existence in overseas. We started looking for knowledge, ideas and how to make it come by. Thanks to Industrial training and Engineer Precious Chijioke. He blessed us with knowledge during our industrial training.

Five of us: three in Electrical Engineering class, one Electrical Electronics and one Geography Students; found a need for this project. Four of us are finals and one penultimate when we started.

How long did it take from ideation, R&D to real construction and sales?

It took us like seven months to complete the circle and have a finished product. Remember, we are students, so we are putting to test the knowledge we have gathered from classes and personal studies.

You guys must have conducted some research on electricity challenges in Nigeria, can you share with us some of the findings?

The truth is that energy is not cheap anywhere but one peculiar thing with Nigeria is that our people waste energy that they can’t even pay for. An example is, most poor homes use 200watts bulb everywhere while such energy consumption is equal to some fridges used by rich men.  Also, the pressure on the national grid by home deprives the industries of this energy, so we thought if homes could key into green energy and leave out the noise and air polluting generators, the industries may gain little life. Another one is that some homes use our grid light to cook instead of using gas as the white men do. You can add yours too.

Where was the idea incubated?

It all started at social science quadrangle, in UNN. When we decided to do what the whites do and have a product no matter what stress and energy it will take.

When do you intend moving to mass production?

We have already started with 20 sets of 2.5kva and 1.5kva.

How much funding are you looking at?

We need about N100 million to flood the market with these products.

You said everything was developed in Nsukka, can you expatiate on that?

We designed our circuit board, more like the thing people call mother board, although we print it in China currently. We make our transformers ourselves here, get iron pan and bend it to our desired shape in Enugu. We then do other things ourselves except painting which we outsource.

How are you sourcing the raw material?

All the things we need are in the local market here. Although we now import resistors, inductors and micro processors via an agent in Ali express which makes them cheap.

What have been the greatest challenges?

At first, it was fund, next was people’s doubt on what we do. Now, it is expansion.

What can you guys take in exchange for this project?

We can take the project for itself. It is now our life.

What are the limitations of the products? Benefits too?

For now, we can boast of systems that are hybrid (uses both solar and disco grid) with in built automatic transfer switch, has load detection sensor as well as LCD for the user. It has a short-circuit detection mechanism inside for stubborn users like Nigerians with automatic shut down both in overload and short-circuit. For battery life extension, it has four stage charge modes with trickle charge effect.  It is one of the best power machines anybody in Nigeria can use because we understand the Nigerian user more than any foreign company. With respect to the limitations, we believe that our designs are not as beautiful as we want it to be but we will soon get over that.

How affordable are the products compared to imported ones?

We have the competitive power here, because our product is very affordable compared to any foreign system of same specification. Our prices are approximately 40% less than any one in the market.

Have you received any grant?

No, but will be happy to get

Patented?

We have submitted documents for patency, but this is technology, only those with spiritual eyes can imitate it.

How did you raise the initial funding?

We started with N45,000 and were adding N5,000 each until we got things set. As I said early, it was like seven months. And then one day at a trade fair, Gov. Ugwuanyi Ifeanyi of Enugu state bought our product alongside Mr. John Busco. That was our first return. We reinvested all.  And we kept saving and adding, hunger was on all our faces, but we kept smiling. One thing I must add, all our friends showed us love even when our first test system blew up. They still clapped for us.

What are the sizes and functionality?

Yes it is in sizes, from 1500 watts to 20,000 watts. You use it like other imported system. We have a manual too. It serves as a replacement for your generators and some decide to remove their disco grid entirely because it is reliable. You keep solar panels outside which traps sun rays as ultraviolet and sends it to your batteries as DC current. This DC is sapped by the inverter and sent out as AC for your home use. 

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