Electrical Engineering

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Mr Rowley wanted a switch board for his new hotel, the Medina Palms in Watamu. It needed to handle enough power for lights, heat and air conditioning in all 50 separate villas, the pool’s filtration system, security cameras, and the hotel’s kitchens and bars: drawing approximately 1000kVA from the national grid and directing it through hundreds of individual switches and control units built into one central console. I picked up my pencil- this was not an electrical engineering exam at school: instead of lounging at the beach with my friends, I had chosen to spend my summer at Specialised Power Systems (“SPS”), designing and building Mr. Rowleys‘s switchboard. As the engineers and I gathered around and started to draft designs for the switchboard, we quickly recognised several key issues. Mr Rowley wanted the switchboard to have power capacitors to increase general efficiency, and the capability to work coherently with generators and invertors to account for the Kenyan grid’s frequent blackouts and power surges. Both capabilities are extremely important in Africa, not only for luxury hotels but also for the health of national infrastructure. By working on Mr. Rowley’s luxury hotel, I could learn to implement the technical knowledge from study into real-world projects, such as expanding and improving the Kenyan national grid and bringing cost-efficient generators to rural areas. We set to work. Mr. Rowley’s first requirement for his switchboard was to have a power-factor capacitor bank, which allowed me to explore in depth a component I first studied through my A-levels physics classes, and one that is crucial to energy efficiency and modern electrical systems. Essentially, capacitors are used to store electrical charge. Mr. Rowley’s requirement meant that his system, which normally drew 1000kVA from the grid, would have to be able to utilise 100kVA in order to account for the extra power occasionally needed to start water pumps, electric lights,...
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