Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Solar Energy Storage Hackathon Singapore.

The Solar Energy Storage Hackathon in Singapore is run by Global Sense and Civil Innovation Lab. This is the first of such event held in Singapore, and the goal is to find out sustainable solution for storing sustainable energy in Rural communities.

The registration started on 18 April 2016, and there were 2 pre-Hackathon workshops on 28 May and 4 June. The workshops are to introduce how solar energy works, and to calculate carbon footprint. The hackathon is open to secondary schools, JC and university students.

This year, the hackathon is run at the Singapore Science Center on 14 - 17 June. there were 37 registered participants and the each team was given a 5.4W panel that produces 4.5V output.

The challenge was to use this panel to store energy (without the use of batteries or chemicals) in a sustainable way, and later allow the energy to be used to power LED bulbs or charge a phone. The solution should be scalable in the rural communities, like those in Nepal which are off the grid.

The participants are encouraged to recycle old toys and appliances for the storage and spend as little as possible, and use item which they think can be acquired in Nepal. 

After some brainstorming, mentors are assigned to each team to work with them on a solution that they could hack together in the next few days.

Some of the ideas were pretty ambitious, and others rather novel. Many of the students did learn a lot from school, and want to apply their knowledge, and during the hackathon, they quickly realized that it is actually very challenging to create a prototype, which it is easy to work out solution on the paper.

For example, the most common way to get energy stored to light a bulb or charge a phone is to use a motor as a generator, and picking the right motor to light up a bulb is not easy. Even a 3W motor can come in various sizes and even engineering students don't have any idea when it comes to creating a device. It is really a big test on their creativity and adaptability to work towards the solution with what they have.

Initially, some of the participants though of similar solutions, but implementing and creating the solution is NEVER the same. even when 2 teams want to store water, one team actually created their own pump out of a piece of wood in a circular plastic container and a motor.

The hands on experience on creating the prototype and managing their limited time is also a great learning experience as most knowledge are taught on books, and translating it to a physical product is something all the participants have no experience in.

After a few days of assembling materials and building their prototype, they have to present their solution to the judges.

The participants created a lot of novel solutions, and there were many iterations of the creation as there were lots of trail and error to get to what they want.

Time management was also very important, and some groups had a rather hard time managing time, and resources. And eventually had to scale down their solution to a simpler one.

Many interesting devices were created by the younger student, and even a "valve" derived by examining how the heart works is being tested.

The prototypes need to be functioning and not "pretty" and even so, it was not an easy task. For some projects, it became a crafts project, and one need to be handy and innovative to use limited resources.

In the end, one of the younger teams created a good device which they can demo (and works) to pump water to a height with a pump powered by the solar panel. And later, use the running water to turn a turbine and light up a bulb.

We would like to thank our main sponsor -- Ricoh Singapore that sponsored the Theta S 360 camera as prizes for the winners.

I had great fun organizing the event and was inspired by the young minds in their creative solutions. This was their first hackathon experience and they put in a lot of effort to work on the prototypes. They are also invited to travel to Nepal where there are several on the ground partners like Nepal Communitiere to host them to scale their prototypes up into other solution to empower the rural communities and earthquake survivors.

-- Robin Low

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