energy technologies
NamPower: Ruacana hydroelectric power station. Pic credit: kunenerak
Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne is engaged in an initiative at national level to help develop Cameroon’s hydroelectric power. Pic credit: kunenerak

In Cameroon, researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) have teamed up with Swiss and Cameroonian partners to address issues in a bid to stabilise the national grid, improve energy efficiency, and develop hydroelectric potential.

Adaptable, sustainable and affordable solutions

In-depth research was carried out, co-financed by EPFL and the University of Lausanne, to develop technological solutions with both socioeconomic and institutional dimensions.

A system using batteries and inverters specially designed for tropical climates was developed and tested in the laboratory.

During low-demand hours it stores up the energy required to meet the needs during peak hours or during power cuts and load-shedding. This solution also isolates and protects electrical equipment from sometimes destructive disruptions on the grid.

The total cost of this solution over 10 years (purchase, operations and maintenance) represents 14% of the average annual cost of a hospital’s energy supply. An economic model was used to research the possibility of financing the solution with the resulting savings, which stem mainly from the diesel fuel costs for the generators.

“The solutions that we come up with have to be adaptable, sustainable and affordable”, said Nicolas Crettenand, who spent two years in Cameroon as EPFL’s chargé de mission. If the model is successful, hospitals in Cameroon and other developing countries will be able to function more effectively.

Grid connections unreliable

For those connected to the national grid the research found that unreliability of supply is the root cause of numerous challenges, especially in hospitals, PhysOrg reported.

These problems are the focus of concern for engineers from the University Research Centre on Energy for Health Care, a joint laboratory between EPFL – represented by the EssentialTech programme of the Cooperation and Development Centre – and the Yaoundé National Advanced School of Engineering.

The engineers’ research conclusions are damning: electrical equipment at hospitals is in poor shape, daily power cuts last up to three hours, electrical fires take place and power surges destroy household appliances.

At peak hours, the grid does not generate enough electricity to run hospital sterilisers, and the power cuts affect the lighting in operating theatres putting lives at risk.

Promoting Swiss know-how in hydroelectricity

Alongside this effort, EPFL is also engaged in an initiative at national level to help develop the country’s hydroelectric power. Cameroon is one of four countries on the African continent with significant hydroelectric potential.

70% of electricity production in the country is already the result of hydropower, but that represents only 5% of the potential capacity of this energy source. At the same time, the electrification rate is 50% in cities and 5% in rural areas.

Academic and industry partners in Switzerland put together a consortium that is concentrating on small and medium-sized power stations.

“At this stage, there is a serious shortage of power stations in Africa with capacity between several hundred kilowatts and several dozen megawatts, and this is a range in which Switzerland has special expertise”, said Crettenand, who ran this project as part of his mission with EPFL’s Energy Centre.

The consortium, still more of an interest group at this stage, aims to work with Cameroonian partners, in the spirit of integrated and sustainable development and hopes eventually to help alleviate the electricity problems, especially for the hospitals.