Research Brown Bag: Solar Solutions


It was all about solar at this year’s second Research Brown Bag held on 27th May @iLabAfrica. The monthly event gives Strathmore researchers opportunities to present their projects, findings and innovations in front of their peers and seniors. In return, attendees proffer their advice, insight and professional knowledge to the presenters.

Prototyping a Fleet of Solar Electric Cycles: A Case Study of 11, 895 Kilometeres in Kenya

Energy and transport are two of the fastest growing sectors in the African continent. Despite the evident push towards efficiency and effectiveness, many Kenyans – especially those situated in rural areas – have been left behind. In an attempt to tackle this issue, Clem Minett-Bird and Kuria Karanja from the Strathmore Energy Research Centre – in tandem with Solar E-cycles Kenya, built a fleet of electrical tricycle vehicles dubbed the ‘Uhuru prototypes’. Over the span of one year, they were tested for reliability, capabilities, range and cost-effectiveness. Minett and Karanja presented their findings and future course of action at the Research Brown Bag.

Participants for the trial run were selected from four courier businesses: Kwanza Tukule, M’lo zone, Glovo and The Flea Online Megastore. They were promptly trained to operate the vehicles, thereby ensuring the creation of capable delivery drivers.

A year down the line, they had come to several conclusions:

  • On sunny days, the vehicles get more energy than they expend. However, on cloudy days, the vehicles expend more energy than they obtain from solar energy.
  • The panel on average generates more energy than what is utilized by the vehicle.
  • The average cost per kilometer of the vehicles was $0.052. The average fuel cost of a motorcycle is 23% less whereas that of a small car is 45% more, over the same distance.
  • The Uhuru prototypes are more cost effective than traditional vehicles but less cost effective than motorcycles.

Based on their analysis of the data collected, Solar E-cycles Kenya has developed an improved version of the solar electrical cycle called the Tryke. The Tryke employs Lithium-ion technology for energy storage which guarantees a higher number of duty cycles. Furthermore, motors were improved by eliminating the “sun” gear which produced a higher and faster gear ratio within the motor and increased the likelihood of overheating, thereby limiting the driving speed to a safe 20km/hr.

Smart Remote Automatic Solar-Powered Weather Station 

“Data is the oil of the digital era,” said 2nd year Electrical and Electronics Engineering student, Bradley Omondi. He and his two partners, Alvin Nyandeje and Trevor Atela have heeded to this philosophy in the course of developing an automatic solar powered weather station.

Noting the array of problems associated with the collection of climate and weather data, the group aims to create a product that will eliminate some, if not all, of the issues. The automatic nature of the weather station ascertains that human error or delay is of little concern with regard to collecting data. Furthermore, it can be transported from place to place, hence data can be collected from a variety of locations. The use of solar energy to power the station promotes not only sustainability but also long-term cost-effectiveness.

Using the knowledge gained from their brief period with I-Teams, they expect to take their product from research and development to the market in the coming years, with the establishment of more than 100 weather stations.

Both sets of researchers fielded questions and suggestions from researchers. Ultimately, the experiences enlightened them to improvements and alternative solutions to the issues they face in product development. Researchers, innovators and academics are encouraged to present at future sessions of this undertaking.

The next Research Brown Bag will be held on Friday 24th June 2022 from 1:30pm to 2:55pm @iLab Africa. To become a presenter, register here.



This article was written by Laura Namuliro, Bachelor of Arts in Communications student.

What’s your story? We’d like to hear it. Contact us via


See more news