California school kids are sharpening their tech skills while helping students in Africa have a brighter future with We Share Solar Suitcases. Nonprofit “We Care Solar” designed and developed the portable power plants to help with their mission of providing maternal health care in developing countries. The simple devices can generate power from the sun where hospital power may be highly unreliable. They’ve deployed the compact solar suitcases to at least 30 countries since 2009.
The bright idea of a compact, easy-to-use portable solar power pack won We Care Solar the United Nation’s first “Powering the Future We Want” award in 2015.
“I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of health workers who have seen the miracle of light and power in saving lives,” We Care Solar co-founder, Dr. Laura Stachel said in accepting the million dollar humanitarian prize. “This award is the beginning of a brighter future for women everywhere. No Woman should die giving life.”
California power company PG&E has been helping fuel We Care Solar’s mission, by buying solar suitcases and sending them to schools around the state. The unassembled kits do double duty — as a learning tool for students to hone STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) skills, then as a practical power source for places needing power when the class project is completed.
“A solar suitcase is a tool mostly designed to empower a community,” Salinas High School senior Sierra Hotz said in a PG&E statement. “So it can help start small businesses, it can provide light, it can be used in hospitals to power a small vaccine refrigerator.”
Schools with the best projects get to travel with their solar suitcases to the villages they’re helping, to see the difference their work can make.
“I’m now a solar expert because I know how to connect the solar,” Rosaline, one of the Kenyans who will benefit from a solar suitcase, told PG&E.
Each Solar Suitcase comes with a high efficiency LED light system and cell phone chargers. They can be expanded with extra batteries and solar panels to create a 200 watt powerhouse. Depending on all the bells and whistles, the devices cost between $1700 and $2200. In addition to deploying them on their own, We Care provides them to NGOs at a bulk discount. PG&E powers their partnership with We Share Solar Suitcases through more than 15 schools. At the same time, the power company sees a role in empowering students to “act locally, and think globally” about solar power.
“By educating students on the importance of solar, we can both inspire them, and provide them with valuable tools for making an impact in their local communities and around the world,” said Helen Burt, PG&E’s senior vice president of external affairs and public policy said.
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