Aston University has teamed up with engineering company Solargen Technologies (SGT) and the University of Nairobi through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) to develop a smart irrigation system using solar and wind energy to provide year-round watering of land to improve crop production in Kenya.
A KTP is a three-way collaboration between a business, an academic partner and a highly qualified researcher, known as a KTP associate.
SGT is a leading energy, water and irrigation solution and service provider in Kenya. They work in partnership with non-governmental entities, government, and individuals to serve communities in rural and conflict-affected parts of Eastern Africa through customised solutions that meet their energy, water and food security needs.
Kenya's economy is agriculture-based, but over 80% of its land is dry. Farmers cannot depend on rain-fed agriculture due to unpredictable rainfall and frequent drought, therefore an irrigation system is required. SGT's current irrigation system is solar powered and requires large batteries and manned operation to maintain efficiency, resulting in high operating and maintenance costs and issues with performance during cloudy days.
This KTP will use a hybrid source of solar and wind energy to power 'smart sensors' and 'control systems' to automatically deliver the right amount of water for a given crop type and maintain the required soil moisture level, resulting in increased crop yields.
The Aston University team will be led by Dr Muhammed Imran, senior lecturer in mechanical engineering and an established researcher in the area of renewable energy systems, especially hybrid energy systems. He will be supported by Dr Tabbi Wilberforce Awotwe, lecturer in mechanical engineering and design and an established researcher in the area of sustainable energy systems and optimisation approaches.
Dr Imran said: "We are delighted to design the hybrid solar and wind energy system for this smart irrigation system, which will have a positive impact on primary crop production, increase the availability of safe and healthy foods and improve the welfare of farmers and their families in rural Kenya."
They are collaborating with Professor Ayub Gitau and Dr George Kamucha from the University of Nairobi. Professor Gitau is an associate professor and dean for the School of Engineering and a professional agricultural engineer. Dr Kamucha is a senior lecturer and chairman for the Department of Electrical and Information Engineering who has extensive experience in advance control systems as well as advance model predictive control systems.
Badr Shariff, managing director at Solargen Technologies, said: "The project will bring together Aston University's expertise in hybrid energy, the University of Nairobi's expertise in irrigation systems and our expertise in system integration and solar energy to develop a market leading irrigation system with increased reliability and low operating and maintenance costs."