Innovation Africa-style

One thing that the Smart Villages model is based on is the notion of “appropriate technology” – that is the use of technologies that are specified and optimised based on their context and utility, rather than their absolute efficiency or performance. The classic example is the use of, say, an off-the-shelf lead acid battery instead of the latest Li-Ion model, because the technology is locally understood and easy to replace if it breaks.

But sometimes locally-appropriate means high tech, but not high spec. Assembling the battery bank for our PV installation at the Ormoti borehole site, we didn’t expect our local partner’s technical whiz, Silas Sifaeli, to conjure up a fluid-cooled and -lubricated drilling system for us in 30 seconds flat, an hour’s drive into the bush. But that’s what we got!

Assembling the 30kWh 48v battery bank involved linking 12 200Ah DEKA batteries together, in 3 parallel sets of 4. To avoid too many crimped cable connections, we were linking the sets of 4 series batteries together using 2mm metal joining plates instead of cables. But, inevitably, the holes in the plates were 6mm, and the bolts for the battery terminals were 8mm.

Water bottle – free; hole in the cap – free; drilling improvement – priceless

No problem, we had our cordless drill and some newish 8mm drill bits. But it turns out, the steel that the joining plates were made of was HARD! Silas watched us get no-where for a few minutes, and then took pity on us. 30 seconds with a used water bottle and a small screwdriver to make a hole in the middle of the cap, and we had a bespoke cooling device, which made the job as easy as drilling through butter.

After adding this, we had a fair assembly line running!

I’d like to say that we’d have come up with the same idea, doing the job up in Europe, but I know that’s pretty unlikely. Sometimes I think having all the high-end equipment easily available from a shop prevents you really thinking about what you need, and finding a simple, cheap solution. Silas did that for us without skipping a beat, or needing to spend a single shilling! Now we just need him to teach us all his other tricks too…

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