Over the last three years we have developed our SolarBerry from concept to a prototype to a fully-fledged computer lab in Choma, Northern Malawi. Raspberry Pi computers are housed in a repurposed shipping container and powered by solar energy.
We wanted to expand the idea and look at how our SolarBerry concept could be applied in different contexts and respond to different needs. We teamed up with Ubuntu Power and Amber Energy to try a new variation of the SolarBerry in Kenya, this time in an existing school classroom.
Ubuntu Power had built a solar & biogas mini-grid in Mutaruni, Kenya – providing electricity to hundreds of homes and businesses. We knew this would be an excellent opportunity to combine our lab concept with a pre-existing renewable energy source which would support a local school. To create the lab, we built upon Ubuntu Power’s existing power supply, telecoms and infrastructure to help the local school to start delivering ICT lessons. By using Ubuntu Power’s existing renewable energy mini-grid we were able to significantly reduce the costs of installing off-grid energy infrastructure for the computers. The computer lab also is able to benefit from the Wi-Fi installation at Ubuntu Power.
This modified version of our first SolarBerry has had a marked impact on the school. Since Ubuntu Power completed the construction of the computer lab, school registration has increased to a level that qualifies the school for state funding and assistance, ensuring the lab will continue to benefit students for years to come. The lab has been so popular with students they are even using it in their free time – during their free periods, on their lunch breaks, and even after school! The lab is also enabling Ubuntu Power to provide nationally recognised and accredited IT training.
Amber Energy got involved in the project through their innovative Power2Africa scheme, which pays for running costs through corporate memberships so that all donations to Power2Africa can be spent entirely in Africa, delivering clean energy projects to rural communities. By working together, Amber Energy, the Turing Trust and Ubuntu Power have been able to fully finance the installation of the new computer lab at Mutaruni.
For the Turing Trust, the SolarBerryK has been a fantastic way to see the applicability of a solar-powered computer classroom by combining with a mini-grid.