Fulbright scholar to travel to Lesotho for electricity project

27 April 2017
Alex Garoffolo, Student Writer

Senior mechanical engineering student Bryan Kinzer will work on smart meter technology for rural areas.

A native of Rogers, Arkansas, Bryan Kinzer will head a long way from home this August. His Fulbright research assignment is taking him to Lesotho, a small, landlocked kingdom completely encircled by South Africa. Kinzer says he’ll be working with a rural electric utility to implement smart meter technology. This technology is utilized for tracking the amount of electricity a building uses during the day in real time. The Fulbright is a nationally competitive scholarship program that awards merit-based grants for international educational exchange. The program itself was created to facilitate mutual understanding between Americans and residents of other countries.

“The smart meter technology is the system we’re going to in America as well,” Kinzer said. The problem is the smart meter systems here are already very complex and very expensive, designed for massive power companies that supply and monitor power to entire grid networks. In rural Africa, Kinzer will work to install the system on a much smaller scale for small homes and schools. The infrastructure needed for the systems we have in America just does not exist there, so rural electric companies must operate on a smaller scale.

What also matters is the way Africans in Lesotho pay for their power. “Most people there pre-pay for their electricity via cell phone, so with these smart meters, we can track the electricity they use and the system will alert them when the amount of power they’ve purchased is almost drained,” Kinzer explained. He added that smart meters are good for the Lesotho project because of the extensive use of solar panels in developing nations. Tracking electricity usage in real time is essential to monitoring successful renewable energy projects, according to Kinzer.

Why Lesotho? “One of my teachers, Professor Otanicar, has a friend who’s worked for STG International [the utility there], so it was a natural progression to do the project in Lesotho,” Kinzer said. “I had made the connection with him before the Fulbright announcement came out. It just made sense.” He’s not sure what the living arrangements will be like; however, he knows he’ll have a place to stay.

Kinzer began working with smart meter technology in fall 2016, but he’s been actively participating with SENEA (Sustainable Engineering for Needy and Emerging Areas) club here at TU since freshman year. His goal is to install the technology and monitoring systems on 15 buildings during his stay in Africa. Kinzer will be in Lesotho August 2017-May 2018, and has orientation with the Fulbright program in Washington, DC this coming June.

Some advice to prospective Fulbright applicants? “Start early. For the essays, explain how the Fulbright fits into the mission or goal you already have. Try to make connections with host institutions beforehand,” Kinzer advised. In addition to research grants, Fulbright also offers awards for teaching English in foreign countries. TU alumnus Toby Decker received his Fulbright at the same time as Kinzer for this purpose. He will serve as an English language assistant in Barranquilla, Colombia.This year’s Fulbright application deadline is October 6.