A 15-year-old student from Aga Khan
Academy Mombasa has created a model for a solar -powered airport
for Mombasa, which could save millions of shillings a year in
The Energy Research in Airports Review
of May 2016 reports that a standard airport spends 94,000 U.S.
Dollars a year on electricity.
However, with Mombasa experiencing an
average of 173 days of sunshine a year, its potential for
renewable solar power production is sufficient to power the
airport, and even surrounding suburbs.
This potential inspired Shashank
Arvindan to work on a model of a solar-powered airport as his
Year 10 Personal Project, which is part of the International
Baccalaureate programme at the Aga Khan Academy that challenges
students to undertake in-depth research on a topic of their own
interest and deliver a viable product or outcome.
“I wanted a project based on my
passion and that could solve a specific global issue.
“There are a lot of pollution concerns
in the aviation field and this prompted me to look into solar
power as part of the globalisation and sustainability aspects of
“I actually started thinking of
sustainable energy when my family moved to Mombasa in 2007 and
began experiencing the hot climate,” said Arvindan.
The student has been an aviation
enthusiast since the age of eight, when he accompanied his aunt,
a chemical engineer, to the National Aviational Museum in India
in an adventure that changed his life.
“I developed a love for airplanes at a
very young age, which is evident from the variety of plane toys
“When I was in India, my aunt, who
used to frequently visit our family, saw how passionate I was
about aviation and began mentoring me,” said Arvindan.
This kind of mentoring, further
supported by schooling, is geared towards problem solving, has
been shown to achieve exceptional academic results.
A survey of graduate students at the
University of Nebraska Lincoln in 2005, found that students who
had developed mentoring relationships tended to be more
productive in research, conference presentations, pre-doctoral
publications, and instructional development, and performed
better in academic coursework by 33 per cent.
At the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa,
mentoring is further institutionalized through programmes such
as the Year 10 Personal Project.
“The role we play as supervisors is
like that of professors in a college or undergraduate thesis.
“We give guidance to get the students
to bring out their personal interest, develop research skills as
well as think about the global context and how the project
solves the specific concern mentioned.
“For instance, when he said the model
was eco-friendly, it wasn’t clear in his presentation so I asked
him to conduct more research and explain how the solar panels
help reduce carbon emissions,” said Rodney Bosire, AKA Mombasa
teacher and Arvindan’s Personal Project mentor.
For Arvindan, the solar-powered
airport model saw him reach out for expert advice as well.
“I remember a day when I was
attempting to assemble the prototype and got a burn injury while
connecting the circuit.
“However, two engineers from Kenya
Aviation Authority (KAA) and Baobab Beach Resort helped me
understand how to assemble the circuit, solar panel, resistors
and the battery to get the model working,” he said.
The process of consulting with the
engineers involved Arvindan commuting from the South Coast to
the North Coast to schedule and pitch for interviews.
“Engineers are extremely busy and it
took me weeks of waiting to land appointments with them,” he
The model itself required a battery,
electrical cables, solar panel, lights, and wood, which Arvindan
assembled into a replica of Mombasa airport with a runway,
functional lights and a source of electricity.
Arvindan, who is now working to
present the model to Mombasa Airport and other relevant
authorities, is one of more than 80 students who developed new
products and concepts for this year’s personal projects at AKA
Mombasa, with other projects spanning phone apps to manage
diabetes, an in-car pothole detector, and an enjoyable
retirement home for the elderly.
“AKA Mombasa’s curriculum and policies
are rooted in ensuring we get the best out of our students as we
prepare them for the future.
“We have very talented young people in
the country and mentoring such minds is very important in
propelling the development of Africa and the world,” said