Blackout inspires youth to develop renewable energy generator

Oct 23, 2017

Kamara’s ingenuity could help ease Sierra Leone’s electricity challenges © Alpha Sesay/ UNDP Sierra Leone

Three years ago, what 23-year old Mohamed Kamara wanted most was to get admission at Fourah Bay College to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering. 

First, Kamara had to take the West African Senior Secondary School Examination, a compulsory university entrance test. However, the frequent power outage stood in his way.

“I had trouble with the blackout,” he says. “When I’m busy with studies, the light goes off.”

Unfortunately, he doesn’t know when it will be back. This is a common trend in Sierra Leone, one of the darkest places on earth. 

“Here we only see light twice every week,” he continued. Kamara lives in Wilberforce, a Freetown hilltop suburb.

Kamara thought about a solution to the blackout problem, but couldn’t fix it alone. He teamed up with two colleagues – a hydrological expert and a research assistant.

Since the three had no money to buy equipment, the dump site and dustbin adjacent to Kamara’s home became their work yard.

“We built this from scrap metals we scavenged from the dump site,” Kamara says, pointing to the black metal frame with dozens of silver spoons spinning and an old motorbike wheel.

It took the trio three years to figure out how they would practicalize their dream. The hydrologist provided the technical guide on the amount of water they needed to spin the spoons. While Kamara’s task was to assemble the scrap metals so that it would generate and produce energy. 

To produce light, Kamara used a water storage tank, which pumps the water very hard on the spoons. The force of the water that falls on the spoons leads to spinning of the spoons. As the spoons rotate, the 18-volt motor generates electricity. 

The persistent spinning will charge the battery and when it is fully charged it stores and produces 220 volts of energy.   

Then Kamara saw the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 2017 Social Good Summit (SGS) announcement searching for young minds with innovative ideas to Sierra Leone’s present challenges.

He told himself that was the right opportunity to showcase his prototype generator and tell Sierra Leoneans that he had discovered a simple, cheap and affordable solution to the country’s energy challenge.

He and other 42 young innovators had applied. He was among the eight that made the rigorous selecting panel criteria.

But to get the prestigious 2017 Youth Innovation Award, he had to compete and demonstrate his invention to another panel of judges drawn from the private sector Youth Affairs Ministry and Njala University and over 500 audiences at the Njala University Towama Campus in Bo—Sierra Leone’s second largest city.

Kamara got 66 percent of the scores, the highest, making him the SGS 2017 Star Prize Winner.

Despite the electricity challenges and the fact that he hailed from a poor background, Kamara has been able to brave through two of the most important goals he had set himself.

He has gained admission to his dream university-studying mechanical engineering and has developed a prototype renewable energy generator powered by water to help ease the energy problem he faced.

Kamara says he has developed five different prototypes for renewable generators and is looking for support from anyone who believes in his dream. His renewable generator could help resolve one of Sierra Leone’s biggest problems.

Today, as a start, he will be receiving Le 10,000,000 as the star prize winner of the 2017 Youth Innovation Award.

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