As I mentioned in my last post, I will be using remote monitoring to gather data from operating biogas digesters. This will work using a cellphone application which transmits data via GPRS from a handset (just like MXit), so that the cost to user will be extremely low (as compared to SMS). The platform on which this tool is built was not developed by our research group, but rather noticed by myself at an African Centre for Cities talk in April 2010 when Prof. Ulrike Rivett (from the Spatial Data Management Unit in the Department of Civil Engineering here at UCT,) showcased her water quality monitoring tool which has had much success in monitoring of water quality in South Africa.
The rationale for developing the tool is the need for remote monitoring and quick access to daily readings from small scale urban biogas systems, especially in start-up phase. This is core to the aims in my thesis proposal about advancing the understanding of the stability and productivity of small scale biogas operations. Given that I will be focusing on systems in an urban context, and that almost all urban dwellers have GPRS capable mobile phone (particularly in Africa), the use of remote monitoring is already supported by necessary infrastructure.
To date, I have been working with Michael Champanis, a colleague of Prof. Rivett, who has been extremely helpful and has built a special form tailored to what we would like to monitor at the UCT Marquard Unit. The application is installed on a Nokia 2700 and I hope to get the biogas team at Marquard transmitting daily readings from this phone in the next week.