The Nelson Mandela University (NMU), in collaboration with the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education and Training Authority (Merseta), recently held the inaugural NMU Solar Boat Competition, in Gqeberha. Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges and technical high schools participated in the competition.
The event exposed learners and students to solar technologies and helped them develop essential skills to design and manufacture a simple solar-powered boat. The goal of the three-hour endurance race was to cover the longest distance in the time limit, with sunlight the only power source allowed for propulsion. The event was also about developing skills and interest in these areas among the youngsters.
“We want young people to get rounded knowledge. It is great that they can be here and enjoy the racing, but we also want them to be interested in the architecture and manufacturing of boat building, as well as servicing and repairing boats,” said Merseta Eastern Cape client relations manager Zwelethemba Ngayeka.
“This is the type of project that we want young people to be interested in, particularly technical high schools because their skills resonate with our sector of engineering and manufacturing, and because boat building is part of our sector skills plan.”
One of the main objectives was to develop skills in the manufacturing and engineering sector, noted NMU Mechanical Engineering principal lecturer and Advanced Mechatronic Technology Centre director Karl du Preez.
“We are here to help create skilled technicians and technologists in the field because companies are increasingly needing people with these skills. We have created an environment where the learners learn through play, and they are learning the technology as they are having fun,” he said.
Collaboration and group thinking are key to the work of the NMU's Renewable Energy Research Group (RERG). The event was perfect to show budding engineers what might lie ahead in this career field, as well as spread awareness of alternate sources of power, said RERG Professor Russell Phillips.
“Once you have experienced the power of solar to push you in a car, or on a boat, you will have a better understanding of its potential,” he explained.
A team of matric boys from Port Rex Technical High School, in East London, won the competition and received R10 000 in cash, trophies and several other individual prizes. Port Rex teacher Mark Hammond added that the university supported the schools and teachers in giving advice and encouragement, not only with the event but also at the school.
The competition will be held again in December; however, NMU hopes to be able to draw in more rural and non-technical schools to participate.