High school and college students came together on March 29 to participate in a program that gives them the chance to make a difference in the world while getting hands-on green technology experience.
It’s called the Solar Suitcase Project, a project that allows students to assemble, with direction, “solar suitcases”—power-producing suitcases equipped with a solar panel, 12v battery, and a charge controller–which will then be sent to developing countries in great need of electricity.
The benefits of the project are twofold. Students gain experience and knowledge about the intricacies of electric wiring and how solar-generated power converts to electricity. Struggling countries gain solar-generated energy that impacts their community by making possible something as simple as a light bulb to improve medical, school, and orphanage conditions and services.
Providing energy alternatives to these countries is crucial in a world where the creation of energy through burning fossil fuels or coal is an expensive and non-renewable method. The only other after-hour lighting options they have are candles, oil lamps, and battery-operated devices—also a costly and non-renewable method.
“They can’t afford to get it from us, they can’t afford to drill for it themselves,” said Simeon Gant, Executive Director of GreenTech, a nonprofit that implements the project’s student workshops in partnership with the creators of the suitcases, We Care Solar. “If we’re providing them with solar panels, they can afford to maintain that because it’s renewable energy.”
Each suitcase generates enough energy to light 4-8 light bulbs as well as charge a cell phone or laptop. Hundreds of Solar Suitcases have been installed in Africa, Central America, Asia, and the Caribbean. The suitcases assembled at March 29’s workshop will be sent to remote medical maternity wards in Uganda and to an orphanage and school in Haiti, where devastation from the 2010 earthquake is still apparent. GreenTech already installed solar suitcases at other locations in Uganda and Haiti, so they’ve seen the difference the suitcases make.
“When we first got pictures back from Haiti after we sent them over, the first thing you notice is these smiling faces,” said Gant. “The young kids, the orphans, are just so happy. Some of them have never seen light at night, so it really empowers and inspires all of us to see that we’ve helped somebody else.”
It’s a project that also impacts our local community in that it serves as training and sparks interest in students looking at a career in green technology. The Solar Suitcase Project is part of a larger program by GreenTech that focuses on preparing high school and college age students for career opportunities in clean energy, environmental protection, and energy efficiency. They do so through classroom instruction by GreenTech instructors, hands-on projects such as the Solar Suitcase Project, and on-site tours of companies, labs, construction sites, and other locations practicing and implementing green technology. We Care Solar’s spin off, We Share Solar, is the student workshop element of creating solar suitcases that GreenTech now runs.
The project held at Cosumnes River College on March 29 was a special open invitation opportunity for the community’s high school and college students. Among the local schools included were Sac State and Visions In Education Charter School. Also attending were instructors, volunteers (including members from Sac State’s Rugby team and division of the National Society of Black Engineers), and even a couple middle school students.
Gant said that for a lot of them, it’s an introduction to electric circuits, how electricity works, and photovoltaic technology (how solar works). Once exposed to the benefit and potential, if not necessity, of the field, the hope and frequent outcome of workshops is continued pursuit of energy-alternative careers.
Together, GreenTech and We Care Solar have a strong partnership focused on the same goal—to show students and the world how solar technology can benefit everyone.
“I think that’s the big piece—that folks in underdeveloped worlds, they’ve never seen what we see,” said Gant. “So for our students to be able to give something to them, it’s an inspiration to hopefully do something more.”
Photos by Bethany Harris