Solar Sentry: Tracking Tool Scoops Gold

Interview with the Gold Award winners of the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge 2023-2024

The Efficiency for Access Design Challenge 2023-24 Grand Final took place on Tuesday 18 June 2024. The event celebrated a variety of innovative designs submitted by university student teams from around the world, who participated in the Challenge over the past nine months. Teams were recognised with Bronze, Silver and People’s Choice prizes, and one team’s design stood out, earning them the prestigious Gold Award.

The winning team, from Obafemi Awolowo University in Kajola, Nigeria, came out on top with their design ‘Solar Sentry’, which focuses on real-time monitoring and wireless reporting for solar power system optimisation and diagnostics.

We were thrilled to sit down with Abiola Ogundeji, Emeka Charles Simeon, and Samuel Olowosile from the winning team, to talk through their Solar Sentry blueprint, the challenges they faced in developing the design, and how participating in the Challenge has influenced their future career ambitions.

The Gold Award winning team from Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria. The team includes Abiola Ogundeji, Mary Ajose, Michael Adesiyan, Emeka Simeon and Samuel Olowosile

The Interview

How did you feel when you first found out you had won the Gold Award?

Abiola: We are quite happy that all the effort we put into this Challenge has been acknowledged, and become fruitful. It will also look very good on our resumes; having this kind of award will show our capabilities!


Could you explain the Solar Sentry design in simple terms for those who may not be familiar with technical jargon?

Abiola: Our meaning of “Sentry” is a guide, that ensures everything is working properly. The idea came from us noticing most solar projects in Nigeria just disappear, or fail to work properly. The current administration in my state for instance, when the lights in our street go off, will resort to using fossil fuels, as they see solar energy as something that is not reliable. This was very motivating to us. The main problem is maintenance, so if we could design a device that could monitor systems, and send status tests periodically to technicians, it would make solar energy systems more reliable. So the task was to get the data from solar panels and batteries, compare it to the expected output, detect if it’s working properly or not, then the technicians or users could do something about it.


What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during the design and development of the project, and how did you overcome them?

Abiola: One challenge was how we could sample the electrical data from the solar panels and batteries. There are a lot of sensors that do this, but most of them are not accurate. Fortunately for us, STMicroelectronics actually came up with a device last year which provides accurate feedback of data we want to use. Their module measures the voltage, current and power, specifically made for solar and battery purposes. This has helped make our design more robust.


What impact do you see your project having, especially in countries like Nigeria?

Abiola: Solar panels and solar energy systems that we have in Nigeria are not properly monitored, because those who typically run these projects move on after a short term. With our project, we can make solar energy more reliable, so they last longer, and can be used up to their life expectancy.

Emeka: It could also be used in refugee camps and remote villages. If someone is trained on the maintenance, there will be less need to get experts down to those remote areas.


How did you manage teamwork and collaboration among your group? Were there any strategies that helped you succeed?

Abiola: Our team is composed of a mix of students, Michael is in his fourth year, Emeka is a third year student, and Mary and Samuel are still in their sophomore, so it’s Michael and I that have more experience around the project. In terms of collaboration, we try to meet regularly, discuss tasks, and allocate them to each other.

We had most of our meetings close to the end of the Challenge, putting more effort into pitching, since we know that is where most of the grading comes from. So, we put lots of effort into preparing the slides, and organising our pitching. We tried to intensify the amount of times we met, and ensure we worked harder together.


Can you share any memorable moments or experiences from your time working on the project?

Abiola: One good time was when we were able to get the exact sensor for sampling the electrics. We were confident that with it, we could add more ingenuity to our project, as it was such a new concept. We were like, “with this sensor, I think this will actually work better for our project and make it more robust!”

Emeka: I have a lot of fond memories actually: recording the video for submission, compiling the reports. We would get together for editing and say Do it again! You forgot these files! Remember this part?” We had to remind each other “This is the reason we are doing this” and bringing everyone together, juggling our minds, it was a really good way to spend time together.

Samuel: I do have a number of memorable moments, like when I met Abiola, he took me through what the whole project was about, we worked on some of the parts together, it was a really new experience for me, and I was happy that I joined this Challenge.


How has participating in this competition influenced your career aspirations, particularly in the renewable energy sector?

Abiola: During our research, we found out about the Electrodynamic Screen (EDS). I learned that it usually needs very high voltage to work at low current, which makes it safer to use. The problem was that for high voltage, we needed to use an inverter, but that didn’t fit with the scope of the Challenge. So I wondered, is there any other way we can solve this? This sparked my curiosity, to venture out into new areas, like renewable energy. It made me interested in power electronics, and how we can use this knowledge to make solar energy systems more accessible to everyone.

Samuel: We have a lot of issues with solar devices in Nigeria, so when we were working on the project, I actually thought of going into the solar appliances sector, to try and make it better for my country.

Emeka: For me, I see my country is underdeveloped in the way of technology and energy. So I thought, what if we can boycott the long route that the Western world has gone through of fossil fuel use, virtually for everything, and just go straight, more linearly, towards the green energy sector through this project. My hope is to develop more energy management systems that will be able to manage the consumption of batteries, or develop these as devices, that work more with low voltage, low current, and are suitable for weak-grid appliances.


What advice would you give to students who are thinking about participating in the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge in the next rounds?

Abiola: Anything you want to do, be sure to put in all your effort, and with the right support, you will get the right result, and achieve whatever it is you wish.

Emeka: Just let your imagination fly! We were talking about appliances that use solar to generate energy, wondering where can we go with this? We checked what others have done, previous year’s projects, and thought how do we challenge these, how can we compete? So we came up with the idea of the energy management system, like the Solar Sentry, which seemed off the beaten track. But we tried to evaluate the importance of this, to create something that really matters. So anybody that is thinking about joining next year’s competition, I say use what you know and what’s been done before, and just follow your dreams.

Samuel: While the experience was new for me, it was a great one, one of the best decisions I’ve made was joining the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge. So my advice, on why to join the Challenge, is to be able to learn new things, to gain experience, really integrate it, and relate the ideas to make society better.


Do you have any final thoughts to share?

Emeka: I would like to give my thanks to the organisers, and everybody involved in this Efficiency for Access Design Challenge, it is very inspiring in the way it’s set up, and a valuable organisation. I believe this series of projects everyone has worked on will leave a mark, and change the course of history, because of what it means to live with energy and appliances. If we consume less, and we take care of nature with green energy, we can satisfy the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The challenge is in changing our mindset, by reducing our energy consumption within this ecosystem, we’ll be helping the natural environment. Thank you again to everyone who organised this, in my country we say “God bless you!”

Samuel: When I first started, I had only a basic understanding of how solar energy worked. I knew the general concepts of converting sunlight into electricity using photovoltaic cells, but the technology and its applications were still a mystery to me. This realisation fuelled my determination to learn and grow.

Meeting with my teammates, especially Abiola who thoroughly guided me through the project and its design, was precious. Through these discussions, I was able to make a little contribution to our project. Despite feeling a bit discouraged initially, especially when I saw that final-year students and MSc students from other universities had participated in the last challenge, I found the experience to be incredibly motivating. It pushed me to learn more and gain more experience, and I’m happy I took part.

Renewable energy in Nigeria is very important, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to contribute positively to this field.


We thank Abiola, Samuel and Emeka once again for taking part in our winner’s interview. It was great to hear how the success found with their Solar Sentry design can not only influence their future career prospects, but also how a country such as their home nation of Nigeria could benefit in the future from the technology involved in the design. The Challenge will continue in 2024-25 to nurture innovative thinking whilst enhancing knowledge and skills in the off-grid sector.

Watch the full recording of the Grand Final to see all the teams, including our Gold winners receive their awards. You can also explore all of this year’s final design entries on our website.

The Efficiency for Access Design Challenge is a global, multi-disciplinary competition that empowers teams of university students to help accelerate clean energy access. The Challenge is delivered by research and development innovators, Efficiency for Access, in collaboration with Engineers Without Borders UK and funded with UK aid from the UK government via the Transforming Energy Access platform and the IKEA Foundation.

Find out more about the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge.


Program Partner

  • Engineers Without Borders UK