Solar powered backpacks were designed in 2015 by Evariste Akoumian, a computer salesman from the Ivory Coast. He came up with the idea after his car broke down one evening, as night was falling. He noticed that many children were arriving home from school at this time. These children had no access to electricity, so had no light to study by after dark. He founded his company, Solarpak, to tackle this problem.
WHAT IS SOLAR POWER?
Solar power is a way of using energy from the sun to produce electricity. It uses small plates called solar cells, which collect sunlight. When light from the sun hits the solar cell, the cell produces a current (flow of electricity). This current can be used to power electrical items, such as light bulbs. It can be used straight away, or it can be stored in batteries and used later.
Solar cells are very small, so can only collect a small amount of light. This means a single solar cell does not produce very much electricity. Normally, many solar cells are connected together to make one big solar panel.
HOW IS THIS USED IN BACKPACKS?
The backpacks contain a lamp, a battery and a small solar panel.
Children in rural communities often have long walks to and from school. If they wear the backpacks on their journeys, the solar panel can charge the battery as they travel. The energy in the battery is then used to power the lamp. The lamp is an LED (a type of lightbulb that uses only a small amount of electricity). A single charge can power the LED for 3 hours.
WHY IS THIS BENEFICIAL?
Many rural communities do not have access to electricity. So, people in these communities have to light oil lamps, or use battery powered torches to see at night. This can be expensive, as the oil and batteries are costly to replace. However, the battery in the backpack can be recharged by the sun many times, so costs nothing to reuse.
Giving children this solar powered lamp means they can study for three hours after the sun goes down. This will help poorer children perform better at school, giving them better prospects for their futures.
HOW ARE THE BACKPACKS DISTRIBUTED?
Each backpack costs around €20 (1300 CFA). But, the people who need the backpacks the most – people in poor communities – often cannot afford this.
So, Yiwo Zone, an Ivorian education charity, distributes the backpacks to schoolchildren across Africa for free. Many of these children previously did not have any bags to carry their school things in. This means that the Solarpak backpacks are solving two problems at once.
Children in Gabon, Madagascar, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast have already received backpacks. Akoumian hopes to spread Solarpak backpacks throughout Africa in the future.