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New solar hub takes power to rural areas, poor

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Households powered by electricity are a lot safer those relying on candles, paraffin cookers and open fires. But for a variety of reasons local authorities are not always in a position to electrify informal settlements.

A new version of an award-winning solar energy hub, developed by Cape Town engineer James van der Walt and his team, was unveiled at the Home of Compassion in Delft during the recent IEEE Power Africa conference.

The SolarTurtle, a social business, is a container-based energy kiosk where people can charge batteries for their electricity needs using the power of the sun. 

The latest version has automated solar panels that deploy and fold away automatically for transport or if there is a threat, such as a gale or protest. 
James says the hubs are designed to provide secure, reliable green power to communities in areas that otherwise have little access to electricity.

With the purpose-built mounting system, the solar panels fold away on the roof of the container, making it easy to move. James says this makes the hubs ideal for use in emergencies and disaster recovery, when access to power is crucial. They could also be used by clinics. 

SolarTurtle’s general manager, Lungelwa Tyali, says: “We are busy with a large project for Lesotho and we are building a prototype for a community centre in the informal settlement of Delft. Here the container will be used as a charging station for phones, and as a tailoring business. The power from the sun will also flow into the rest of the community centre.” 

The new design builds on a pilot project at a rural school in the Eastern Cape. In this container pupils could recharge phones, buy and use internet vouchers and access rechargeable LED lights for studying.

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