Providing Lesotho's Children with Keys to the World

This is the story of our efforts to end the vicious cycle of poverty, disease, inadequate education, and early death
in a remote rural community in Lesotho, Africa, by providing quality education and life skills
to the young children there. Join us on our journey ...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Problems Getting Solar Power Installed Before Next Deployment

I would first like to thank all the OLPC Community Support Volunteers who shared their expertise and help determining the best system for our needs, with a very special thank you to Richard Smith, Alex Kleider, and Chris Leonard. I'd also like to thank David Leeming for his assistance.

We've run into problems getting a solar-powered electrical system installed at Kokobe Primary School, the site of our next deployment in January 2013.  The problem arose just last month with the installer, Bethel BCDC, and he has put us in a bind both time-wise and financially.

Right now, we are faced with some unpleasant conditions:
  • The installer may not be willing or able to install the system before deployment.
  • The cost of the recommended system far exceeds our current funding.
We have a few, less than ideal options:
  1. We could postpone deployment.
    • This would delay deployment until we have the money to pay for the system (probably a year from now).
    • This could be devastating to our organization.  We have a number of volunteers who have already bought plane tickets to Lesotho for January (average price $2100).They would suffer significant financial loss if we have to postpone.
  2. We could risk taking out a loan to cover the cost. 
    • This assumes the installer can and will install they system before January, which is seeming less and less likely.
    • We would have to alter our Articles of Incorporation to allow for taking out a loan.
    • We would have to hope donors will contribute to pay off the loan.
  3. We could temporarily borrow a small gas generator and 10 portable individual-laptop solar chargers from Nohana Primary School.
    • Charging with this set-up would be difficult and time-consuming, but we could charge some of the laptops during deployment and training. 
    • Because getting gas to the site is extremely difficult, this option would leave the school in a very difficult situation until a permanent solution is found.
  4. We could buy 20-30 portable solar chargers that the supplier, ilovemyXO, currently has in stock. 
    • These are a newer version that has not been fully tested with XO-1 laptops, and there is some uncertainty whether they will work with the laptops we are deploying.
    • Even if we go this route, we would have too few chargers for the full 50 laptops that will be deployed at Kokobe in January. 
    • If we also borrow the 10 panels from Nohana, that would allow us to charge up to 40 laptops at a time. We could supplement this temporarily with Nohana's gas generator.
    • For the long run, there is no stored power to fall back on, when it is too cloudy or raining, like there is with the system using permanent solar panels and batteries.
We are leaning toward the last option.  It is the most affordable and the most likely to be ready in time for the upcoming deployment.  It has some serious drawbacks though:
  •  It is a bit of a gamble because the panels may not work well with the laptops we have.
  • It will take much more effort on a daily basis on the part of the teachers and students.
  • The portable panels will pose more of a temptation to steal.
  • We will still have to find 20 more panels after deployment and find a way to get them to Kokobe. 
  • Our funders donated their money to install the permanent system.  Hopefully, given the circumstances, they will be willing to alter our agreements to fund the potable chargers instead.
I'll keep you posted.

- Janissa


  1. Have you contacted SolarCubed project? I don't have direct experience with them, but have been tracking their progress. I don't know what your budget it, but it may be worth a shot.

  2. Hello Janissa,

    I must say that your blog is very interesting and that I kept reading it for hours now. It is interesting to read about the progress of OLPC in the land of Lesotho. As I am able to understand you seem to access the internet over 2G/3G mobile signal, that means there is probably no cable-internet at your village.
    Maybe I could somehow assist (remotely) by providing some kind of VPN access in case that you would want to have public internet addresses, so each computer can have its own IP address. Or if you would need some kind of internet hosting on servers with faster connection ? Sure I would not charge for it, it would be free. Keep on with the good work !

    Kind regards,

  3. Hi Jon Nettleton,

    Thanks for the suggestion. I've looked into SolarCubed before. It is a very expensive approach, over $9000 for 5 laptops. We can provide 5 laptops for a fraction of that price.

    Hardware and technology are just a tool to reach our goals. We believe that community investment, leadership development, and teacher training are a critical componenet of any IT project in the developing world.

    The SolarCubed approach might encourage people to JUST provide the hardware without also providing the necessary support. This type of approach, while easy to implement, almost always leads to failure.

    - Janissa

  4. Hi Jan,

    I'm glad you enjoy our blog and appreciate our work.

    You are correct. At our sites right now, we only have access to the internet using cell phones.

    We have several people working on solutions to this problem. Tony Anderson will be installing network servers at our schools in January. Henk Boschoff, of S-Curve in Pretoria, has donated a GSM antenna. We're hoping he will be visiting our project in January to install the antenna.

    We're always happy to get new people involved with our project. I will forward your message to Henk and Tony so you can work with them.

    - Janissa

  5. This article had great info on looking for a american solar direct. Check them out.

  6. Hi Tina, Thanks for the information, but we work in Lesotho, Africa, so we are looking for an installer there, not in the U.S.


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