Calling young designers

Entries have opened for the Eskom eta Awards, which includes a category for Young Designers: school kids with bright minds and bright ideas. Here are a few past winners…

South Africa is a country full of talent. This is particularly true of the youth of the country – a fact which seems to constantly surprise people. In the Young Designers category of the Eskom eta Awards,

year after year, school students submit projects on energy efficiency that leave the judges and public alike open-mouthed.

The eta Awards have been running for 23 years, and were originally established with the aim of generating awareness and encouraging action in the energy efficiency field. Over the years they have grown from strength to strength, and are now widely considered the most prestigious energy efficiency awards in the country. They recognise and reward the proven application of sound energy efficiency principals across a broad spectrum of sectors, including commercial, industrial, residential, agricultural and education.

Nine different categories make up the Awards, catering for a wide range of entrants, from individuals to companies – big and small.

The Young Designers category is aimed at school-going children with a creative idea, programme, design or prototype that looks at the efficient use of energy rather than the generation of energy.

Eta Awards judge Alistair Schorn gains inspiration from the high levels of enthusiasm and understanding that the entrants show regarding issues of sustainability, energy efficiency and environment.

“This is particularly true of our primary school entrants – their submissions are generally the ones that we as judges enjoy the most,” he says.

In 2011, the judges were especially impressed by 16 year old Keegan Cordeiro’s entry. This young designer from White River built a solar system that can charge cellphones and run various small appliances that require 220V of alternating current and use a two-prong plug.

This solar-powered charging and supply unit consists of a 15W solar panel, a 12V battery, a 20W inverter, a regulator that protects the battery from being overcharged and also warns you when the battery charge is low, as well as a female USB port, a switch and twin plug. The judges agreed with Cordeiro that it would be cost-effective to manufacture a solar-powered charging and supply unit for the public. His plan is to improve the design and sell the product at a reasonable price to people living in rural areas.

Laura Andreas, a 16 year old student at Deutsche International School in Cape Town, similarly wowed the judges last year with her invention – a solar furnace that desalinates salt water and generates electricity.

Andreas wanted to determine whether it’s possible to desalinate salt water and generate electricity purely using solar energy. The device that she built heats up salt water to boiling point, and then the steam drives a turbine that generates electricity. By condensing the steam water, it produces fresh, drinkable water.

Her project innovatively integrates the concepts of renewable energy and water purification, which, the judges noted, holds significant potential for future development.

The bright young team from Greenwood Independent School in Plettenberg Bay impressed more than just the judges at the 2011 eta Awards. They examined the relationship between the climate, building design and energy usage, aiming to see what they could do to influence local municipality officials with their findings.

They took field trips to see how RDP houses are currently built and identified ways in which they could be made more energy efficient. Their findings indicated that due to lack of insulation, the houses lost a significant amount of heat, and that those built facing west did not benefit from natural warmth.

The innovative youngsters were invited to visit their local mayor, Memory Booysen, to present their findings, which were lauded as “eye-opening” and said to be likely to change the way RDP houses were built in the future.

It is innovative projects such as these that often leave adults open-mouthed.

Dr Elsa du Toit, longstanding eta Awards judge, sums up this sentiment, saying: “Sometimes the kids come up with the brightest innovations and they are so excited about the outcome, which makes the rest of us feel guilty. I like being a judge because I learn something new every year. In a world full of bad news, this is a good news item and it encourages me to continue to fight the good fight in a world full of skeptics.”

Entries to the 2012 eta Awards opened on 2 April and close on 3 August 2012.