This year our postgraduate course Solar Thermal Energy Systems (STES) took on a new and exciting format we hope to expand upon and build ongoing international collaboration. Professor Craig McGregor, Research Group Director (STERG) and Solar Thermal Spoke Grant holder together with Professor Johannes Koke from the Lingen campus of Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences, Germany, successfully offered students the “Collaborative Online International Learning” format as part of their STES and Solar Technology courses.

Prof McGregor held an online lecture for students from Lingen on “Electricity generation with solar thermal energy in South Africa”. Prof Koke similarly gave an online lecture for South African students on “Collector technology and solar thermal applications in Germany.”

Project by international teams

After the lectures a joint project followed. In smaller groups the international teams had to plan solar thermal systems for hospitals, across national borders, to alleviate the high demand hospitals have for hot water.

The planning included developing and comparing concepts for the German and South African climates. Both countries are committed to adhering to many climate protection measures which are required in both private and public, including healthcare facilities such as hospitals. One of the most environmentally friendly measures to meet hot water demand is by using solar thermal energy (Umweltbundesamt, 2021).

The teams did a comprehensive study of the design and analysis of a solar thermal system for a 200-bed hospital in suitable locations in South Africa and Germany. The study aimed to identify optimum design parameters and compared the performance of the flat plate and evacuated tube collector systems.

The software tool Polysun was used to model and analyze the performance of solar energy systems. Polysun software packages have built-in solar resource databases for Africa and Europe. The focus of this specific project was on system design and performance results (including economic performance) and recommendations for optimization in already established systems.

The teams chose well-populated and relatively sunny regions in South Africa and Germany and considered the type of water heating methods and roof designs for the installation of either, flat plate collectors or evacuated tubes. The two simulated systems were compared technically using common parameters and KPI’s (Key performance Indicators).

Due to South Africa being characterized by a generally warm climate more of the system’s solar thermal energy was produced by its collectors at the Cape Town, South Africa hospital than at the Freiburg in Breisgau hospital in Germany.

Student feedback

The highlight of the course was partnering with students from a different country, different climate and culture while working towards the engineering goals collaborated upon.

Postgraduate student Johan van der Spuy says “Everyone shared helpful views on ways to improve the project and did their part regarding the workload. All in all, a very pleasant group experience.”

Brendan Willemse says “The group prioritized cooperation and communication to successfully complete the assignment. I personally found it quite enjoyable being able to interact with engineering students from a different country and to collaborate on a project together.”

Similarly, the feedback from the German students on the online collaboration was as positive.

Brainstorming and problem-solving across borders can indeed contribute towards the commitments both countries have made with the Paris Climate Agreement.

Credit: Gillian Cortereal