Thanks to information and a referral from Richard Smith of OLPC, we have ordered 50 portable solar panels from GoldPeak Industries International in Hong Kong. The panels are specifically designed to work with the older XO-1 laptops that we use in Lesotho. Each panel charges one laptop. They are 15V 14W with an 18V limiter, are flexible and tough, and cost just $35 each!!!
GPI has promised to manufacture and ship them to Lesotho no later than December 24th. We'll have to pay air freight charges to get them in time for our January deployment, but given the extremely low cost of the panels themselves, we can cover the extra shipping charges. GPI is working with DHL in Hong Kong, and I am working with DHL in Lesotho to make the shipping arrangements, so hopefully everything will go smoothly.
Once in Kokobe, the panels will be placed on the ground outside the classrooms and wires run into the classrooms to run and charge the laptops. The only other country to use this system in Papua-New Guinea. Here's a picture from their website showing the panels in use:
One huge advantage of using this system is that the solar panels are portable and can be taken home with a laptop, so children can use them on their own after school and on weekends.
PNG uses special wires called DC Shares that allow them to connect 4 panels via one wire to 4 laptops inside. This helps control the tangle of wires. Unfortunately, the DC Shares are not available unless ordered in very large quantities. So, we are looking for ways to jerry-rig a similar system. Unfortunately, the XO laptop and panels use a plug & jack that are non-standard and not available to us. So, we will have to find a different solution.
A big BIG thank you to all of you who have helped me work through this last-minute problem, including Richard Smith, David Leeming, Bruce Baikie, Alex Kreider Chris Leonard, Tony Anderson, and George Hunt for their technical advice and knowledge of sources of equipment, Dyann Van Dusen and Richard Rowan of Friends of Lesotho and our anonymous donor for their flexibility in funding our solar power needs, Jennifer Lynden and Carrol of iLoveMyXO.com for their patience and assistance, our Project Leader Matlabe Teba for handling negotiations and arrangements in Lesotho, Richard Yu and Miu Ip of GPI International for arranging the rush production, and our Directors Sarah Gardner and Sherrie Howey for their guidance in resolving this issue.
This was truly a team effort and yet another wonderful example of the power of the internet in empowering people all over the world to work together.