Geothermal system to be used to cool Kenyan homes

Professor Stephen Vertigans and Dr Katherine Burgess speaking with a resident. Credit: RGU

A team of researchers from Robert Gordon University (RGU) are leading an innovative project aimed at reducing heat stress for Kenyans living in informal housing by using a geothermal cooling system which pulls colder air from underground into their homes.

Much of the housing in low-income communities in Kenya are single-storey spaces, approximately three metres by four in size, made of iron sheeting. Households can often include eight people living in this kind of accommodation. As a result of climate change, these kinds of premises are getting hotter with no access to mains electricity or running water to help cool down through the use of air conditioning systems or fans.

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This project, which is being funded by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and the Global Challenges Research Fund with a grant of almost £35,000, is focused on the installation of a cooling system which involves a series of underground pipes bringing cooler air from under the ground into peoples’ homes.

Researchers from RGU are investigating the effects of installing this system on a variety of measures of heat stress and wellbeing using fitness trackers which will include activity levels, heart rate, skin temperature and quality of sleep.

Furthermore, they will be asked to complete a questionnaire about heat stress called the Heat Strain Score Index (HSSI) and the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale. Work on the project began in January and the team carried out a field visit in March with another to install the cooling systems due to take place in the summer.

Professor Stephen Vertigans, the project lead, said: “This is a vitally important issue for those living in some of the planet’s poorest areas. With climate change happening extremely quickly, it is crucial to have solutions like this cooling system in place so people can not only live comfortably but also avoid the negative impact of heat stress on their bodies and general wellbeing.

“Our research team is uniquely placed to ensure this geothermal solution is successfully implemented and that we can monitor the impact on those who live in what can be extremely difficult conditions.”

Heat stress, which is the negative effects of being in a hot environment, is a major and growing public health concern stemming from climate change. The increased temperatures and occurrence of heat waves mean that the occurrence and severity of heat stress is also increasing.

The extent of the problem is particularly evident in global south informal settlements where a lack of basic services, financial resources, and weak infrastructure mean that typical solutions implemented in more affluent areas are not feasible.

This is a multidisciplinary project lead by Professor Stephen Vertigans from RGU with a team made up of Professor Gokay Deveci, Professor Eyad Elyan, Professor Mamdud Hossain and Dr Katherine Burgess. The RGU research team have expertise in a range of fields including sociology, health sciences, computing, engineering and architecture. Dr Mark Okowa and Dr Lucy Ogol from Tom Mboya University, Homa Bay, Kenya are collaborating on the project.

By combining each of the individual team members ‘skills they will design, implement and evaluate solutions that can improve the health and wellbeing in the less affluent parts of the world.

RGU’s research is focused on making a positive impact on the world by applying collaborative interdisciplinary research expertise to improve quality of life, deliver innovative solutions for business and industry, and contribute towards global sustainability.

The University’s research strategy is focused on growing the quality and impact of its research excellence around five key themes – inclusive and creative societies; the environment, energy, and sustainability; health and wellbeing; living in a digital world and pedagogical research.

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