Looking to the skies, Google and Facebook are harnessing solar energy to launch fleets of balloons, drones and satellites to connect the world to the Internet. But another tech company has taken a different path, using the sun’s ubiquitous – and free – energy to power new opportunities in health and education in Africa.
As part of its Hope for Children Initiative, launched in 2002, Samsung Electronics has been busy creating fully-functional solar powered Internet schools in African countries where electricity is sometimes unreliable or non-existent.
The project spans 11 countries, including Angola, Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, where the company installed the world’s first Solar Powered Internet School in 2011.
“We realized there was a global need to bridge the digital divide,” said Jinuk Shin, Samsung’s Vice President and head of Corporate Citizenship. “So we set out building better educational environments – using the latest innovative technology – for young people in developing countries.”
The company’s Solar Powered Internet School Project converts repurposed shipping containers into classroom space for up to 21 students equipped with a 50-inch electronic board and Internet-enabled solar powered notebooks and tablets. The school is powered by a solar panel roof that generates nine hours of electricity a day.
Samsung says the panels use both visible rays and ultraviolet rays to recharge, allowing the facilities to continue to operate regardless of weather conditions.
A central sever, which controls all the learning devices, stores the curriculum up to grade 12 for teachers and students to access and discuss.
“The exclusively solar-powered, mobile and completely independent classroom is geared towards increasing accessibility to education and connectivity across Africa,” said Shin. “It is designed specifically for use in remote areas with limited or no access to electricity.”
As of 2013, the project has provided education to up to 30,000 students.
Using the same concept, Samsung is providing healthcare services to people with truck-mounted Solar Powered Health Centers staffed by medical personnel.
The centers are “built for use in remote rural areas,” says Shin, “and are intended to eliminate the economic and geographic barriers that prevent people across Africa from obtaining quality medical treatment.”
The mobile units are “on target to treat to more than one million patients in rural and underserved areas in Africa,” he said.
Samsung, local NGOs and governments will collaborate to equip the health centers with ultrasound and xenodiagnosis.
Some of these centers are part of what the company’s recently launched Nanum Villages or Digital Village.
The Nanum Village is a high-tech neighborhood in remote areas of developing countries that provides access to electricity, healthcare and education.
Each village comes with solar-powered facilities that include a health center, a tele-medical center that provides medical services via telecommunications, a solar-power generator, an administration center and an Internet school.
Samsung plans to build a total of 16 Solar Powered Internet Schools in Africa by 2015 – a project that earned it the March 2012 African Energy Prize.