SolarFi & UMASS Amherst:
Bringing Electricity To Africa
Solar power systems are popping up all over the place. They can be found on top of homes, in yards, fields, and parking lots. One thing solar panel system owners don’t fret about in the United States is having someone steal their panels after they have been installed. However, this is a reality for those in Africa. Solar panels are stolen and then used for other purposes, such as a table.
SolarFi is spearheading a way to solve this issue. They have partnered with UMASS Amherst to design a system that can fold into itself as a security measure. The panels will be mounted on a 40-foot container that will be used as a refrigeration unit for local farmers in Africa.
UMASS Amherst has designed a retractable solar system to increase the amount of solar power that can be generated and to protect the panels against theft. Being able to store the panels at the end of the day also helps to protect them against the elements. The design has two adjustable trays for the panels, so they can be positioned at the optimal angle. Another perk of this system is that by using the adjustable trays, the amount of surface area that can be used to generate solar energy is 3 times the surface area of the top of the 40-foot container. This permits for more panels to be utilized. Also, the ease of the design allows it to be deployed by 2 people and doesn’t require any electricity. The end goal is to have the entire system used as a “business in a box”, in Africa, that will have a refrigerator, freezer, charging kiosk, and access to the internet. Plus, the panels will act as awnings around the container and provide the much-needed relief of shade.
Women in the local communities in Africa, will own the “business in a box” and rent space out to local farmers. Depending on the types of crops, 50-100 farmers will be able to utilize the space. It will be a cost-effective business for the women to run, and for the farmers to rent the space. Refrigeration is a huge selling point for the farmers. With the heat in Africa, crops can spoil quickly. However, with the option to refrigerate them, 40% more of the farmers crop’s will be saved. That’s a significant increase and a big help to the community. There has already been interest generated by local farmers and women for this system, as they can both benefit tremendously from it.
Another benefit of this system is the extra power that it will produce. Since the panels can be adjusted to the optimum angle, the amount of power generated will be in excess of what is needed to power the refrigerated area. Therefore, the excess power can be used to purify water, charge phones, and provide access to the internet. Through the use of internet and IOT, the container will be able to monitor its performance and receive weather updates. Weather updates are crucial to the farmers and their crop management.
SolarFi wants to see both the business owners and the farmers benefit from the solar system. They know that both the local economy and food sources are crucial to these communities in Africa. With the help of UMASS Amherst, SolarFi is able to find a way to protect solar panels, bring business opportunities, and preserve crops in Africa. Both organizations are doing their part to bring the benefits of electricity to underserved parts of the world.