Posted by: DHE Rwanda | June 22, 2011

Inaugural Post


With graduation in the rear-view the Rwanda team is taking a break from the stress of Spring term while we wrap up final details and meet in Kigali on July 15th. Most have opted to devote a little more time in Hanover doing some final machining and all will get to spend some time with our families before the summer. Personally, I’m writing you the night before I fly to Africa from a cramped apartment near Marseilles that feels like an In-N-Out Burger inside. The place belongs to Mana Franciquez, who is the last remaining undergrad of the 2008 Rwanda trip that installed the two hydro-electric systems in Banda. He’s now working on a nuclear fusion project with the French government on a Thayer grant – DHE alums may do the darn’dest things, but energy and development remain central to what drives us.

It was an extraordinarily busy spring finalizing designs, working out partnerships and travel details, and, er, passing all our classes. Everyone had multiple assignments and was asked to learn new skills, as well as hone their expertise. New this year is our partnership with E.quinox, the DHE equivalent at Britain’s Imperial College who maintains several solar projects in Rwanda ( They will be doing most of the electrical work on the project, including sourcing 150 battery “boxes” (they protect the life of the battery and have integrated LED lights and AC plug-in spots) and batteries. Jolly good fun chaps.

Our Mechanical Team (Emily, Wiley, Joey, Jake, and myself) all watched Emily crush Solidworks with the new turbine model, and then scrambled to catch up while she explained everything about casting and machine the sparkley new buckets. Collin and Wouter turned into machine shop pro’s. Our Civil Team (Joey, Wiley, Wouter, Collin, Jake) had their work cut out for them with a whole kiosk (distribution center) to design as well as spec the water delivery system (penstock, settling tank, ect) for the astronomical pressures we expect from 80 meters of head (water column height). The Electrical Team (myself) scratched our heads when asked to come up with a new form of electricity generation (two car alternators were previously used) and came up with something pretty novel (a truck alternator).. We’re actually still working on that one though. Our logistics guru Yi did pretty much everything else involved in flying 8 students half-way around the world for two months, and our CEO Ted Sumers did all of the above plus project management and liasoned with Dean Helble and our Thayer faculty advisors.

Unfortunately, while we held down the technical end of the project, we simply didn’t have the logistical and NGO support in Rwanda to construct the site within our limited two-month time frame. The 80 meters of head put a lot of pressure on the civil works team (no pun intended!) while the mechanical and electrical portions of the project still had a lot of unknowns that would have been difficult to work-out on the ground. Finally, it turns out the proposed site in Rukomo may not be too many years away from grid-connected AC mains power – far superior to our little batteries. With all these things in mind, we’re switching gears and spending time in Banda repairing and refurbishing the site there, while we simultaneously scout potential sites and prospective NGO partners in and around Kigali. With our work this year, an implementation trip next summer will be fully prepared to hit the ground running!




  1. Interesting, Mike. Good luck and say hi to Ted.

    I was trying to figure out this one: “…the pressures we would be encountering with 80 meters of head were uncomfortably greater than anything the group had experienced before.” (I have no background in this stuff.)

    Explore the countryside!


  2. Hey John– Ted here! “Head” refers to the height of the water column in the piping. We were going to put a site in on an 90-meter high waterfall, so there would be roughly 80 meters of water sitting in the pipe above the nozzle. That creates a tremendous amount of pressure at the base of the pipe (due to the weight of the water); in the past, we’ve worked with 20-30 meters of head so 80 meters is a huge step up! Greater head means much more power, but also much more force on the piping and a greater risk of bursting at the joints or damaging the turbine during operation.

    Hope you’re having a great summer!

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