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Sustainable Energy Infrastructure for Ethiopian Education

Northwestern partners with Haile-Manas Academy on solar water heater project with $25k in support from the Resnick Family Social Impact Program

February 26, 2021
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Despite abundant solar resources, Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country, is energy impoverished. A multi-disciplinary team of Northwestern University students, advised by Walter P. Murphy Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and co-director of the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN) Sossina Haile, aims to model the deployment of sustainable energy technologies that can ultimately address the needs of Ethiopia’s 90+ million rural population. The initiative will leverage a unique partnership with the Haile-Manas Academy (HMA), a co-educational boarding high school in Debre Birhan, Ethiopia. 

The team will pursue a two-pronged strategy—leading an effort to ensure that a portion of the energy needs at HMA are met through local solar resources, and assisting with the integration of sustainability into the curriculum. 

Specifically, the group of six Northwestern students will design, purchase, and install solar water heating infrastructure for two of HMA’s dormitory buildings. This will require the team to research available technology and identify and install the most appropriate system considering factors such as the solar power density in Debre Birhan, specific community needs, and budgetary constraints. The expectation is that all of the hot water needs will be met by solar heating and thus the project will significantly reduce the electricity use at HMA as well as its carbon footprint. 

This project provides HMA, which is committed to sustainability, an opportunity to both model and teach the subject. The installation will be made visible, while integrating with the building architectural style, so that students and employees become accustomed to the technology. The impact of the solar hot water heaters on sustainability will be displayed on a visible panel that shows the cumulative carbon offset achieved relative to gas heating. Furthermore, the Northwestern students will collaborate with the HMA faculty to use these data and help develop curriculum that teaches energy systems. 

As Prof. Haile notes, “The technology we will deploy at HMA through the support of the Resnick Family Social Impact Fund and ISEN has the potential to be truly transformative by demonstrating the power that students have for implementing change, and by showing just how easy it is to include solar energy in new building construction. I am thrilled to be part of this.” In addition to serving as an ISEN co-director, Haile serves on the Board of HMA and was able to connect the students to both institutions. 

HMA Director, Kari Ostrem, who engaged with the team in the proposal preparation stage, is enthusiastic about the prospects: “We at HMA look forward to working with the Northwestern student group on this important project. We hope they will document their ‘design thinking’ process so we can share it as a permanent display for students to learn from for years to come. We feel certain that the example of these young leaders will spark innovation and inspire future student work in the field of sustainability.” 

Members of the Northwestern student group include Eden Aklile, Lawan A. F. Aladefa, Brendan Badia, Elise Goldfine, Austin Plymill, and Louis Wang.