Solar-powered shipping container lights up communities

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Solar energy has become a ready-made solution for the wide scale problem of community electricity theft, especially in rural schools.

Solar Turtle is a shipping container retrofitted with a number of portable solar panels. These are placed outside the container during the day, and the energy they generate charges batteries which are stored inside the container. This electricity is used to bring power to communities that are off the grid, or affected by electricity theft.

Solar Turtle is one of five finalists in the 2018 Chivas Venture Competition. They are each competing to win a share of $1 million, and the chance of a lifetime to represent South Africa in Chivas Regal’s Venture 4 finals to be held in 2018.

‘’I was researching an idea to look into the problems surrounding e-learning in off-grid communities in the Eastern Cape. I visited 12 schools when I realised that these schools had their solar systems stolen within a year of installation. I realised that I wanted to tackle the problem by addressing the security problem first,” says founder Lungelwa Tyali.

The container-based micro-utilities are assembled offsite and transported to areas in need.  The batteries have been placed in easily portable, recycled plastic bottles. The lid of the bottle has been converted into a 12V socket into which a switch box can be plugged. When the battery is flat, the bottle can be taken back to the Solar Turtle and exchanged for one which is fully charged.  During the day the panels are out in broad daylight, using the rays from the sun to produce electricity, and during the evening it “locks itself in, hence the name ‘turtle’”.

Born and raised in Elliotdale in the Eastern Cape, Tyali’s passion for the Solar Turtle is inspired by her own experience.

“At home, in my village, there was a lack of basic services so people had to buy paraffin and candles which are fire hazards.”

After the 2016 service delivery protests, Tyali and her partners decided to adapt the Solar Turtle system so it could protect itself with a security system that locks automatically, in case of emergency or immediate danger.

“Winning the Chivas Venture Award would put Solar Turtle on the map so that I can reach as many communities as possible, and make a difference.”

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