A 15-year-old student from Aga Khan Academy Mombasa has created a model for a solar -powered airport for Mombasa, which could save millions of shillings a year in energy charges.
The Energy Research in Airports Review of May 2016 reports that a standard airport spends $94,000 a year on electricity. However, with Mombasa experiencing an average of 173 days of sunshine a year, its potential for renewable solar power production is sufficient to power the airport, and even surrounding suburbs.
This potential inspired Shashank Arvindan to work on a model of a solar-powered airport as his Year 10 Personal Project, which is part of the International Baccalaureate programme at the Aga Khan Academy that challenges students to undertake in-depth research on a topic of their own interest and deliver a viable product or outcome.
“I wanted a project based on my passion and that could solve a specific global issue. There are a lot of pollution concerns in the aviation field and this prompted me to look into solar power as part of the globalisation and sustainability aspects of the project. I actually started thinking of sustainable energy when my family moved to Mombasa in 2007 and began experiencing the hot climate,” said Arvindan.
The student has been an aviation enthusiast since the age of eight, when he accompanied his aunt, a chemical engineer, to the National Aviational Museum in India in an adventure that changed his life. “I developed a love for airplanes at a very young age, which is evident from the variety of plane toys I owned. When I was in India, my aunt, who used to frequently visit our family, saw how passionate I was about aviation and began mentoring me,” said Arvindan.
This kind of mentoring, further supported by schooling that is geared towards problem solving, has been shown to achieve exceptional academic results.
A survey of graduate students at the University of Nebraska Lincoln in 2005, found that students who had developed mentoring relationships tended to be more productive in research, conference presentations, pre-doctoral publications, and instructional development, and performed better in academic coursework by 33 per cent.
At the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa, mentoring is further institutionalized through programmes such as the Year 10 Personal Project.
“The role we play as supervisors is like that of professors in a college or undergraduate thesis. We give guidance to get the students to bring out their personal interest, develop research skills as well as think about the global context and how the project solves the specific concern mentioned. For instance, when he said the model was eco-friendly, it wasn’t clear in his presentation so I asked him to conduct more research and explain how the solar panels help reduce carbon emissions,’’ said Rodney Bosire, AKA Mombasa teacher and Arvindan’s Personal Project mentor.
For Arvindan, the solar-powered airport model saw him reach out for expert advice as well.
“I remember a day when I was attempting to assemble the prototype and got a burn injury while connecting the circuit. However, two engineers from Kenya Aviation Authority (KAA) and Baobab Beach Resort helped me understand how to assemble the circuit, solar panel, resistors and the battery to get the model working,” he said.
The model itself required a battery, electrical cables, solar panel, lights, and wood, which Arvindan assembled into a replica of Mombasa airport with a runway, functional lights and a source of electricity.
Arvindan, who is now working to present the model to Mombasa Airport and other relevant authorities, is one of more than 80 students who developed new products and concepts for this year’s personal projects at AKA Mombasa, with other projects spanning phone apps to manage diabetes, an in-car pothole detector, and an enjoyable retirement home for the elderly.
“AKA Mombasa’s curriculum and policies are rooted in ensuring we get the best out of our students as we prepare them for the future. We have very talented young people in the country and mentoring such minds is very important in propelling the development of Africa and the world,” said Bosire.