Last week the Johannesburg CBD was crippled by power outages as a result of cable theft. In total 35kms of electricity cables were stolen leaving homes in darkness and causing many businesses to temporarily close their doors.
The incident once again shone the spotlight on our dependence on traditional sources of power and how as a society we are crippled by a lack of electricity.
The learners who participate in the annual Eskom Expo for Young Scientists are often inspired by incidents like this. Participants are encouraged to develop projects that consider their local context and challenges and the best projects at the regional level are afforded the opportunity to attend the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists International Science Fair (ISF) held in Johannesburg every year.
Winning a spot at the ISF not only provides learners with an amazing exposure to the wonders of the scientific world but also nurtures a passion for science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation. Participants also stand a chance of winning a university bursary and other prizes, with a total value of over R4 million.
“Innovation is at the heart of the Eskom Expo,” explains Thava Govender, Eskom Group Executive: Transmission and Acting Group Executive Sustainability & Risk, “we are looking for real out of the box thinking. We challenge participants to find clever solutions that will make a big difference to society and allow for meaningful advancement, particularly within the context of contributing to sustainable human, social and economic development.”
This year energy sustainability projects were a major theme at the regional finals with many learners looking for alternative ways to produce electricity. This focus is influenced by the country’s history of load shedding as well as the awareness that we need to find cleaner and more cost-effective ways to produce electricity.
An outstanding project from a high school learner was by Jason McMahon, who is in Grade 11 at Martie du Plessis in Bloemfontein. McMahon exhibited the Portable Solar Generator (PSG) he built at the Bloemfontein Regional Eskom Expo. His idea was inspired by the period of countrywide electricity load shedding in South Africa. The PSG uses solar energy to generate usable electricity which is stored for use in batteries. The device, which is now its fourth prototype, uses a solar panel, solar charged controller, batteries and an inverter. It can power household items such as televisions, fridges, lights etc. for anything between 24 – 48 hours.
While other participants use more low-tech solutions – Sevde Nihan Soyertas and Amina Fezeka Kalema, both in Grade 11 at Nizamiya High School in Gauteng, created lighting for low income houses, which used refracted light to shine inside the house.
Alternative sources of energy are another common theme and Nkazimulo Sibanda, a Grade 9 learner from Thuto-Kitso High School, won the Eskom Expo Best Development Project at the Gauteng South Regional Eskom Expo, for his project that looked at turning smoke into a source of energy.
At the KwaZulu-Natal Central Regional Eskom Expo Nobuhle Sibiya (15), a Grade 9 learner from Mpophomeni High School, created a project that manipulated gravitational force to generate electricity. She also won gold for her project.
Another stand out project which scooped the Eskom Expo Best Development Project award at the KwaZulu-Natal Central Eskom Expo went to Samkelo Nyawose, a Grade 12 learner from Ogwini Comprehensive Technical High School. He created a hydro-powered escalator that uses water from shopping centres’ decorative fountains to power the electric staircase.
“Participating in the Eskom Expo is an incredibly enriching experience for these learners. Not only do they improve their science knowledge and skills but they develop a keen sense of community spirit. By looking at relevant local issues they learn how they can offer solutions to our common challenges,” concludes Parthy Chetty, Executive Director of Eskom Expo for Young Scientists.