UConn Engineering Students and Faculty find Success in Renewable Energy Microgrid Design for Rural Ethiopia

By: Grace Seymour

Water turbine (approximately 1.4 kW of power output) on the Koga canal located in the region surrounding the study domain

STORRS - University of Connecticut students and faculty have found success in their research project conducted in rural Ethiopia that involves the installation of a renewable energy microgrid design. This design is used to grant rural communities throughout the country food, water, and economic security while in periods of severe drought. The study was recently published in the journal Sustainability, a collaboration between four departments at Uconn involving both graduate and undergraduate students. 

Stergios Emmanouil, a Ph.D. candidate in Environmental Engineering at UConn explained that the research was primarily able to take shape from local interviews conducted by the research team within the areas in need: 

“We used interviews with local officials, students, and professors from Ethiopia as an input to the study of sustainable renewable energy microgrids for one of the rural societies in the area, known as a kebele,” said Emmanouil. 

A kebele can be defined as the country’s smallest farming community that usually holds between 60 and 90 households. The project focused on the Kudmi kebele, “where irrigation water originates at a nearby artificial reservoir on the Koga River,” according to the article’s abstract. 

Emmanouil explained that the research team was able to use the Kudmi kebele’s irrigation canals to install a groundwater pumping system to augment irrigation for crops grown by local farmers, which increases the food production within this community. 

“Through the optimization procedure, we managed to estimate how we can actually cover the needs for power through pumping water to irrigate and water the plants. Based on the energy coming from the microgrids, we found that we can cover other societal needs like cooking and heating,” explained Emmanouil. 

For a country such as Ethiopia where agriculture fuels its economy, sustainable energy is necessary to keep its communities functioning. The energy developed through this research not only helps farming necessities, but also improves the community’s needs for heating, cooking, and electricity. 

With the community’s needs being fulfilled through this microgrid system created by UConn engineering students and faculty, it was equally as important for UConn sociology students and faculty to acknowledge the social impacts of this project on the locals in the kebele.

According to the project’s abstract, the sociology research team found that many locals welcome this system with open arms due to the benefits of job opportunities and access to information that it offers. 

As UConn undergraduate students Natalie Roach, (Environmental Sciences and Human Rights,) Himaja Najireddy, (Physiology and Neurobiology, Molecular and Cell Biology, Sociology,) and Sophie Macdonald, (Mechanical Engineering) are wrapping up their research on this project, they can be proud of the environmentally friendly microgrid they have created as well as its smooth transition into the Kudmi kebele.