What is a SolarBerry?
A SolarBerry is a computer laboratory housed in an upcycled shipping container powered by solar panels and using low-energy Raspberry Pi computers. We constructed our first SolarBerry in Malawi with our partners Centre for Youth and Development (CYD). It was handed over to the local community in Choma on June 22nd, 2018. The SolarBerry is intended for use by the local schools who will be able to offer Computer Studies as a subject for the first time and also by the community who will be able to access the IT resources. Any excess energy generated will be used by the local community to recharge small electrical devices such as mobile phones and lamps.
600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to electricity
- 90% of those living in rural areas do not have electricity
- 75% of primary schools do not have electricity
- 32% of scondary schools do not have electricity
- Only 4% of households have a computer, laptop or tablet
Use of Computers in Education in Malawi
There is also significant difference in the percentage of students completing secondary education in Malawi in rural areas compared to those in urban areas. Data from UNICEF in 2015-16 showed that only 16% completed Lower Secondary School in rural areas compared to 51% in urban areas.
Currently the rapid growth of the ICT sector benefits mainly urban communities. It is more expensive for governments to bring electricity and subsequently ICTs to rural off-grid areas. And so these, already poor communities, face being further marginalised from today’s digital world.
Our partners, Centre for Youth and Development (CYD) in Malawi conducted a needs assessment of access to computers in schools in 2015 and found that:
- None of the schools surveyed in rural areas had computers
- Of those schools that did have computers, the average was four computers for three hundred students.
Without ICT skills, students are not able to access tertiary education.
The Turing Trust design team for the SolarBerry comprised 4 retired professionals who are members of Currie Balerno Rotary Club.
The design details were reviewed and confirmed by Buro Happold Engineering. This included a SolarBerry PV, Thermal and Structural Feasibility Study and the production of the 3D model you can see below.
The SolarBerry in Choma
Our SolarBerry started its journey as a container in Edinburgh, transporting computers and accessories to Malawi. Initial construction work was done in Mzuzu and the SolarBerry made the journey to Choma in April 2018, where it was greeted with curiosity and great enthusiasm.
A team from the Turing Trust visited Malawi in June 2018 to work with the team from CYD to put the finishing touches to the SolarBerry in Choma. These included the shade cloth, fitting the solar panels, setting up the workstations and of course a final coat of paint.
The SolarBerry was handed over to the community in Choma on 22nd June, 2018. The formal ceremony demonstrated the commitment of all parties to ensure maximum benefit for the community from this innovative computer laboratory. The team highlighted some of the key aspects of the SolarBerry and the ways that it can benefit both the community and school pupils.
The SolarBerry is now being used by two local secondary schools and one primary school for teaching. The local community also uses the SolarBerry to watch videos and generates income by charging mobile phones from the surplus energy generated.
The teams from the Turing Trust and Centre for Youth and Development (CYD) will continue to support the community as they make use of the SolarBerry. It is vital to harness the enthusiasm of all those involved in this project to ensure that the vision of supporting young people to gain the digital skills they need is realised. Our experience in setting up and running this pilot SolarBerry continues to inform other projects we are involved in using solar power to deliver access to computers in rural areas of Malawi.
Do you have any IT equipment to donate?
Our current focus is in Malawi, working with the Centre for Youth and Development, to provide technology-enabled education.
Our activities stem from our base in Edinburgh where we teach trainees how to refurbish IT equipment.