Innovation that could save you from paying high electricity bills

power billspower tarrifs, electricity bills, energy saver

Nelson Cheruiyot (left) and  Brian Kipng’eno, students at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, showcase their home automation device. 

Photo credit: POOL

What you need to know:

  • Electricity bills have become a sore after the energy sector regulator approved higher tariffs at the end of March this year.
  • Electricity bills went up by about 63 per cent compared to the previous cost.

If there is one thing everyone needs in their households in Kenya right now is a way of saving electricity. The bills have become a sore after the energy sector regulator approved higher tariffs at the end of March this year. Electricity bills went up by about 63 per cent compared to the previous cost. Way before this happened, two university students from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) had an idea that could help in managing and saving energy. It started as a class project but their dream now lives beyond the class.

Healthy Nation team finds Nelson Cheruyiot and Brian Kipng’eno at an engineering laboratory in the university. They studied Bachelor of Science in Energy and Environment Technology and are waiting to graduate later this year. For their final year project, they created a home automation system for power management.

At the laboratory, they assemble their tools of trade — a laptop, different cables, a prototype of their innovation and their phones. All these work in tandem to achieve one goal; energy saving. They use the laptop to power their prototype, and this is by design, just to show that their innovation uses less power. They have also created a mobile application since their innovation uses a phone to instruct their device to switch off electricity when it is not in use. In case someone has no data bundles, they have a messaging option that does not require data.

Their prototype is at an advanced version compared to what they first started with. It is now smaller and lighter but has the same things — bulbs, cables and batteries. They demonstrate to us how to power off a bulb by just using a phone. But, there is more to that.

“When we started this project, we wanted to address the Sustainable Development Goal  number seven —  Affordable and Clean Energy. We came up with this system because we wanted to reduce the amount of energy people consume in their daily lives, especially the one utilised unknowingly,” explains Nelson.

“I imagine a day that the system will be used by at least 100,000 Kenyans. So much energy that is lost through phantom load will be saved,” he says.

A phantom load refers to the energy lost from appliances even when they are not in use but they are plugged into a power source. It is like puffing up a balloon with air but there is a tiny prick that lets out some air in the most unnoticeable way, you only realise that so much air has been lost when the balloon deflates and loses its shape.

It is basically idle electricity that is on standby mode, which ideally adds to your electricity bill without you actually using it.

Brian tells Healthy Nation that this happens everyday in our households.

“People switch off the television and forget to completely put it out from the socket, or better still unplug it. Our fridges, phone chargers, microwaves, literally every appliance can lead to lost energy if people are not careful and intentional enough to do the unplugging,” he says.

Their project, which is still in its initial stages, seeks to save people from all that.

“In our device, we have something called a relay, which is like a switch, that uses a small electrical signal to put in on and off. This is what happens when you power anything, even your phone. When we power our device, you will hear a click sound and that signals that all electricity in a household has been cut off completely from the mains,” explains Brian.

“This can act as a socket and a switch,” he adds. Brian explains that the device can also help in reducing accidents at home caused when people forget to turn off their sockets.  You may at one point in your life leave the iron box on and unattended to. Sometimes you may be unsure whether you unplugged it. When you use the application, from wherever you will be, you can power it off and that will save you from coming back home to a house that has been razed by fire caused by an iron box accident.

Nelson says their devices’ use goes beyond the household but even to its surroundings.

In agriculture, for instance, when you have a big farm that you want to irrigate, you may not need to physically go to the farm and manage all sections.

“When you place this system in the middle of the farm, all you have to do is to section it using one relay going to another. All you have to do is to press your button and let the water pump as it should,” explains Brian.

“At home also, when you have an automated gate that uses electricity, you don’t need a security guard to keep opening the gate for you. All you need is to take out your phone when you approach your home and the gate will open automatically. This even helps in avoiding delays that get people robbed,” says Nelson.

In industries as well, in the case of conveyor belts, you can start and stop it by just using your phone. The two students are in the process of patenting their innovation through the university in a bid to protect their Intellectual Property. While it is still in its crawling stage, they believe that one day their idea will make them walk on bigger stages. “We want to start a company that will solve the energy problem in our country. We are planning to make our device simple and easy to operate and make it a smaller equipment that can fit in people’s metre boxes,” Brian explains.

“ We will also improve on our mobile application because as of now, it is still expensive to buy domains and servers. With time, we hope to get money that will make it better and make the application free for everyone to use,” he adds.

While there is no way to show how much energy has been saved yet, they plan to incorporate that as they upgrade their device.