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Becoming the First Carbon Neutral University in Kenya

Solar Panel roofing at Strathmore University

The effort to reduce carbon emissions as the arguably most prevalent cause of global warming has been a positive trend in most African countries. One of the most successful strategies towards reaching that goal is the shift from fossil fuel power generation to renewable sources of energy such as wind, hydro, geothermal and solar.

As Kenya sits on the equator it enjoys an all year round insolation between 5 to 6 kW/m2/day which is more than double of the average insulation in Germany, which is a country where solar energy is widely used. Taking advantage of a green line of financial support created by the French Government, Strathmore University embarked in a project to install a 600kW roof-top, grid connected solar PV system to cater for its electricity needs.

The current trend is that higher institutions of learning are taking a leadership role in driving sustainability initiatives. Thus, they are well placed in playing the role of fighting climate change since their focus is to educate future generations of leaders. This responsibility covers the institutions’ carbon emission reduction, conservation of energy and water and other sustainability initiatives. Velazquez et al. (2006) define a sustainable university as a higher institution of learning that involves, addresses and promotes on a global and regional basis, the reduction of negative environmental, societal, economic, and health effects that result from the use of their given resources to meet their functions in outreach and partnership, teaching, research and stewardship to help the society achieve a transition to sustainable lifestyles.

Strathmore University has actualized its commitment to sustainability in a number of ways such as management of social, environmental and governance issues. The University has an established policy of integrating business with environmental conservation which has been embraced by all employees towards environmental sustainability. With regards to its built environment, the University has adopted green buildings as a way of improving the benefits to students, staff, workers, the community, and a builder’s bottom line.

The Student Centre (SC), Management Science Building (MSB) and the Strathmore Business School (SBS) which add up to 22,000 square meter of space were constructed using the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards. These green buildings consist of mainly offices, lecture halls, conference halls, recreational facilities and a cafeteria.  Compared to conventional buildings, the energy consumption has been reduced by 40% (Da Silva, 2011). A Building Management System (BMS) is integrated into the buildings to control the resource utilization. The BMS used is based on SNAP PAC System Architecture with OPTO-SNAP controllers. User defined control-programming is used to define the functioning of the various components such as motion detectors, power cards and lighting control. The BMS uses room orientation and time-of-day to disable lighting fixtures that are close to the windows when sufficient natural lighting is available. It also disables all lighting in individual rooms when the BMS Motion Detectors indicate that the area has been vacated.

The buildings have in place a full-building voltage stabilizer to help protect all electronics, including the light ballasts from the recurrent voltage fluctuation on the National Grid. In addition, the buildings have incorporated water evaporation cooling system in addition to natural ventilation.

The University spends approximately US$ 300,000 per annum on electricity costs. Major electrical loads mainly comprise of lighting, cooking, air ventilation, hot water heating, lifts, escalators and computers, and other appliances. During the week the demand increases from around 04:30Hrs and peaks at around 11:15Hrs and then drops at around 20:45Hrs. On weekends and holidays, the demand is low due to reduced number of activities.

In December 2012, Strathmore University approved the development of a roof-top grid-tied solar PV project as part of its sustainability initiative. Having as a background of the newly instituted Feed-in-Tariff regulation, the system is designed to produce more than the required self-consumption such that the extra power can be sold to the utility via a PPA (power purchase agreement) and the revenue used to pay for the electricity used by the university at night.

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