Case study: Centurion Solar

Malawi's power problem

Even temporary loss of energy can have a catastrophic impact on Malawi’s public health facilities. Power shortages can prove fatal for patients relying on life support machines, oxygen supply apparatus, and incubators.

The need for more reliable energy infrastructure is urgent. Various humanitarian aid organisations are dedicated to the deployment of solutions that generate energy from the country’s more abundant natural resources – such as sunlight to power solar systems. Furthermore, the implementation of technology that enables remote control and monitoring of new energy infrastructure means that issues can be diagnosed and rectified quickly, and efficiency of deployments can be measured.

Rural villages in Malawi are often affected by power outages. 

A solar solution

Centurion Solar (PTY) Ltd is a South Africa based company that provides industry-leading monitoring and control technology for solar systems. Centurion’s solution, which features a custom-designed system that utilises a Raspberry Pi, allows users to conduct yield analysis, forecast performance, and observe equipment and production in real time in order to maximise performance and diagnose issues.

Centurion was recently tasked with providing a monitoring solution for a humanitarian aid organisation which deployed “hospital-in-a-box” solar systems to sites in Malawi. Each system comprised of a shipping container that would expand multiple times, with solar panels on the roof.

Centurion required a device that would keep its Raspberry Pi units connected to the internet without the use of external power or any other manual intervention, so the amount of energy generated by the system could be measured, and issues could be identified and rectified around the clock without the need for site visitation.

 

Centurion Solar provides industry-leading monitoring and control technology for solar systems.

Introducing Linkwave's PiloT

After trying several unsuccessful methods of keeping the Raspberry Pi connected to the internet, Centurion Solar trialled Linkwave’s PiloT.

The PiloT is a cellular communications board with optional GNSS functionality. It utilises an on-board Sierra Wireless HL Series module, providing a cellular interface which allows data transfer with systems that are sited in remote locations where no other communications services are available – minimising the time, cost, and labour involved in installation and troubleshooting.

The PiloT is available in two variants – the PiloT 3GL, which offers hexaband 3G/HSPA for global coverage, with fallback to EDGE/GPRS, and SiRF V GNSS technology, and the PiloT 4G-1, which is an LTE CAT-1 device with fallback to 2G for Europe.

Johan Booysen, founder of Centurion Solar, said: “The PiloT simply pushed into the Pi and required no further power supply, and it was possible to script all the commands required to get it going. This meant that the deployment could be done even by untrained people, as they simply had to connect the unit and turn it on for it to start working.

“The stability, signal strength, and remote functionality meant that our project could be managed from South Africa; with different teams installing the solar systems in different parts of Malawi.”

 

The PiloT offers reliable cellular connectivity - even in remote areas.

Instrumental in saving lives

In under a year, the “hospital-in-a-box” project has been deployed at close to 100 sites. The implementation of the PiloT has been instrumental in aiding the success of a solution that has proved invaluable in monitoring the solar systems that power life-saving equipment.

“Even with the frequent power cuts and outages in Malawi, the PiloT still maintained connection to the sites, and we were able to save countless lives, as operations could continue without being hampered by power outages”, said Johan.

“Stability and ease of use were two of our main requirements. After a long search, only the PiloT was able to deliver that.”