The MSc in Sustainable Energy of the National University of Lesotho (NUL)’s Energy Research Centre (ERC) is only two years old and had its first graduates on 26th of September 2020, yet its achievements reach far beyond many university post-graduate programmes, in fact some are already using it as a model.
It was only in 2019 when ERC received M800,000 to revamp the young programme, that had hardly run for a year. The funding was from UK Aid under the project: Transforming Energy Access – Learning Partnership (TEA-LP) managed by UCT. The programme has been revamped and the incumbent cohort of first-year students will do a compulsory module on Energy Entrepreneurship.
This is not all that the current students will enjoy from the TEA-LP project. At the end of every module, a major assignment is given. For any assignment that addresses energy access, the best performer on the assignment will be awarded a whopping M10,000! That is right, the top-performing student will get M10,000! As if this was not enough, at the end of the 1st semester, at least two students will get M44,000 scholarships for the rest of the year. The award will be based on performance and needs assessment of the prospecting students. ERC recognizes and rewards hard work.
“This confirms our high expectations of everything done by the ERC Team” says Leslie Ashburner, Project Manager, TEA-LP, South Africa.
Second-year research students are not forgotten, not in this programme. Two of the second-year students are recipients of the SOLTRAIN research grants. The grants are worth EUR2,100 for research on the potential analysis of the use of solar thermal energy for the health sector and EUR700 for analysis of the possibilities of using solar thermal energy in the brewing industry in Lesotho. The primary aim of the financial support is to stimulate research work by students on solar thermal topics in order to build up knowledge and capacity in the SOLTRAIN partner countries. These will further enhance cooperation on solar thermal issues between NUL and SOLTRAIN.
Was it mentioned that the MSc in Sustainable Energy has only had its first graduates this year?
The success of the programme has exceeded all expectations, even for the most optimistic. International energy stakeholders were able to attend during dissertation oral defence of the graduating students … thanks to COVID-19 as these were done online. It was during these presentations that one student caught the attention of a giant Belgian wind power developer, in the name of Hirundo. Hirundo has since asked ERC to engage its students, under paid work, more like consultancy work, to assess the prospects of selling wind power to Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) – a regional market for trading electricity.
“We were really impressed by the organisation of the event, great time keeping and quality of the presentations” exclaimed Hirundo participants.
Well, the success of the ERC is largely due to its dedicated and motivated staff. Earlier this year, we reported that they were the pioneers of the lifeline tariff. If you have forgotten what a lifeline tariff is, this is the policy that allows electricity consumers to buy the first 30 electricity units of the month at almost 75cents. This was done to help the poorest of the poor to afford electricity.
ERC has taken its work further to develop what is called a Pioneer Developer Refund Scheme for the utility company. Ever heard a household saying it owns an electricity transformer because it was the first to bring electricity to the village? That household is called a Pioneer Developer. And rightfully, it must be compensated for bringing the electricity to the village at high costs. This problem has persisted since the inception of the electricity utility company. But now ERC has come to the rescue and, soon, people fighting over the ownership of a transformer will be a thing of the past.
Due to the myriad of projects the ERC is both involved in and pursuing, it is the only unit on campus with a dedicated Project Manager. The ERC believes in its products hence it has acquired the services of one of its graduates to be the Project Manager, Mr Matsoso Mothala.
“I honestly don’t know any other university department being so successful” says Niklas Hayek, Development Consultant – Energy, Education & Climate Change, Germany