Similar to how Africa has leapt over telephone lines directly to mobile phones and are jumping over physical money to digital, the continent also has the potential to avoid building more costly energy grids and pivoting instead to clean, green solar energy.
“Grid instability and rolling blackouts have increased the popularity of battery-based solar systems in African cities. However, homeowners embarking on this journey have quickly discovered that they are ill equipped to navigate the many options presented by solar suppliers,” said Dr. Gritzman. “With our app, we eliminate these barriers to entry by enabling users to design a system for themselves.”
Once the user chooses their appliances and the frequency of use (left) the app recommends the solar system needed to meet the demand (right)
Making Solar Easy
The easy-to-use app designs a solar photovoltaic (PV) system for homes or businesses based on the sunlight at the location, the direction of the roof, and a list of electrical appliances that need to be powered. The design includes specification of the solar panels, storage batteries, controller, inverter, and the estimated cost, currently in South African Rands.
Fellow South African and IBM researcher Toby Kurien, developed the app’s usability and interface.
He adds, “Under the covers of the app is a sophisticated algorithm we developed, which takes the solar radiation data for locations to recommend the type of solar system needed based on the average needs over the year.”
The app runs within the browser of any PC or smartphone and is hosted in the IBM Cloud. After simply choosing their installation location on a map, users can choose from a list of common appliances, such as a TV, LED lights or a laptop. Then they choose how many of the appliances they own and the frequency of use.
For the launch, the app is targeted at users in South Africa, but the team expects to add more countries in the near future.
“The app can be used by anyone in Africa, we just need to find more suppliers outside of South Africa who are interested in sharing their product and services pricing data so we can calculate the estimates,” said Gritzman.
Starting this month, experts at IBM Research, Wits University, University of the Western Cape, Umvoto Africa and Delta-H, who know how to deploy these technologies in South Africa, are starting a new pilot to develop news techniques, which are more user-friendly in the regional context.
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