Suma Ahenkro is an agricultural community of approximately 8000 people located in western Ghana. Situated in the Brong Ahafo region, the town lies two miles east of the border with Ivory Coast. Most members of the community live off of the equivalent of less than $1.50 per day. The town is home to one secondary school, Sumaman Senior High School, which enrolls nearly 750 students.
The Suma Ahenkro, Ghana program officially started in May 2014 when EWB-USA approved EWB-UMCP’s request to partner with the community. In an effort to bring positive change to Suma Ahenkro, EWB-UMCP is collaborating with the non-governmental organization (NGO) Changing Lives Together Inc. and the leadership of Sumaman Senior High School. Through this initiative, the school hopes to improve the academic performance of its pupils, ultimately increasing the number of students sent to tertiary institutions.
Sumaman Senior High School’s first collaboration with EWB-UMCP centers on providing a dependable source of electricity to the school. The school suffers blackouts averaging six to ten hours per day, occasionally reaching a full 24 hours. The reliability of the grid is spotty in general, but worsens in the dry season when Lake Volta, from which Ghana generates much of its electricity through hydropower, reaches low water levels. As a result, students can rarely study at night, leading to decreased academic performance.
The EWB-UMCP Response
In August of 2014, In August 2014, EWB-UMCP sent three students and one faculty mentor on an assessment trip to Ghana. The team sought to gather information needed for a potential solution, as well as to cultivate relationships with in-country partners. EWB-UMCP sourced materials like solar panels, batteries, and electrical supplies for the design. While on-site, the team dimensioned two school blocks to develop as-builts; examined the structural integrity of their roofs; performed an electrical load analysis of each building in the compound; and gathered GPS coordinates. The team also met with a spectrum of different contacts, including the principal, the head of the PTA, and the regional minister of education.
After the assessment trip, the travel team shared the results with the rest of the project team and began design work. The team first examined different potential sources of energy, including a generator, a battery bank, solar power, and wind power. After consulting the community, examining these sources, and evaluating them according to set criteria, the team determined that solar power would best fit the community’s energy needs.
Once the alternatives analysis was completed, work began on the actual design of the solar power system. The project consisted of a solar panel array and battery bank powering two classroom blocks so students could study at night. Subgroups designed a battery rack, roof reinforcement, panel mounting, and the electrical system itself. Together with professional mentors, the team decided on developing a grid-zero solar power system, a design that would be primarily powered by the sun but would use the existing electrical grid to charge the batteries when power dipped below a certain level.
In August 2015, EWB-UMCP sent a team of five students and one mentor to implement the first phase of the project. The team sourced materials, met with in-country contacts, and began construction. The team was welcomed graciously with a large ceremony with chiefs, elders, and community members. After the ceremony, the team began building. Working alongside community members, the team built a battery rack designed to withstand thousands of pounds, secured the purlin-truss connections in the roof by wrapping tie-wire around them, and performed a test-build of the solar panel mounting rack.
EWB-UMCP traveled back to Suma Ahenkro in January 2016 to continue implementation of the solar power system as well as to gather data for a water supply project. The team first sourced more materials in the capital and in the community. Using these items, and materials purchased on the last trip, the team mounted solar panel racking to the roof and installed 12 solar panels on the racking. EWB-UMCP then ran wiring through PVC underneath the panels to an electrical shed near the side of the school. While one team was doing the wiring, another group mounted charge controllers and breakers to a control board in the shed. By the end of the trip, the classroom block was fitted with 12 solar panels.