Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations


Another Pragmatic Use for Solar–The Solar Bus!

The solar bus!

A prototype of what is to come in Uganda–the solar bus!

“It’s environmentally friendly, green and clean—the solar bus!”

By Linn Smith

July 3, 2016—In February of this year, Africa’s first solar bus, a prototype, hit its highways thanks to engineer, Paul Isaac Musasizi, CEO of Kiira Motors. The Kayoola Bus, as it is called in Africa, is an environmentally friendly, green and clean, 34 seat alternative to current buses. The system consists of two batteries charged by solar panels on the roof.

Creating Jobs for Uganda

When manufacturing of the bus is in place the company hopes to create 7,000 jobs, and by 2039, be able to manufacture all the parts for the bus in Uganda. Pricing the bus at $58,000, Musaisizi currently has some government funding, but is still looking for investors to get his project off the ground.

The solar bus

The Solar Bus–ride free!

Australia’s Tindo

Uganda does not boast the first solar bus. Australia has what they call the Tindo, powered 100% by solar! The Tindo was created by a New Zealand company called Designline International which “leads the world in vehicle design, hybrid propulsion systems and electric drive systems,” striving to keep New Zealand green through being environmentally conscious. The batteries of the Tindo are charged by a solar system on the roof at the city bus station instead of panels on top of the bus. This bus has been in operation since 2007 and accommodates 40 passengers–and cost to ride? Totally free!

China's hybrid bus

China’s hybrid bus–keeping in green!

China’s Hybrid Buses

China put solar hybrid buses into operation in 2012. These buses have solar panels installed on the roof which power lithium-ion batteries.

Solar Bus

Austria’s Solar Bus

And Solar for Austria

In Austria the first solar bus was put into operation in 2011. This is a bus developed to transport students between the university campuses.

“Solar buses—solar energy applied in another pragmatic way!”


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Turning Children’s Play into Electrical Energy: Building Merry-Go-Rounds that Create Light

Empowered Playgrounds

Studying by a lamp energized by playground equipment

The playgrounds are functioning in 16 rural schools, touching over 3000 students’ lives in Ghana.

By Linn Smith

April 13, 2015—Since 2007, Empowered Playgrounds, Inc has installed 40 merry-go-rounds at schools all over Ghana, West Africa. “Our merry-go-rounds, powered by children at recess, generate renewable energy that charges lanterns that children use in their classrooms and homes to study at night.”

Power Generating Merry-Go-Round and Glider

The villages where the lanterns have been installed are mainly agricultural villages, where electricity has been mostly unavailable. Children often go to the fields to work until dark, leaving no sunlight in which to study. With the playground-powered lanterns, these children can return to their homes to study. The system currently provides a power generating merry-go-round and glider swing, with other playground equipment currently being developed and tested. An eight to twelve year old child playing vigorously on the equipment can output about 100 watts of energy with the batteries holding up to 40 hours of charge.

Empowered Playground, Inc.

Play and Renewable Energy Combined!

Empowered Playgrounds, Inc.

Empowered Playgrounds, based in the U.S. was founded by retired engineer, Ben Markham, who was living in Ghana, Africa. He observed the total darkness of rural villages and schools at night. He also noticed the lack of play equipment for the children. He asked himself, “What if a portion of the playful energy from these children could be harnessed? What if that energy could become light for their classrooms and homes?” With help from other engineers and materials available in Ghana, he created playground equipment which generates electricity by children playing. In 2008, the equipment was installed in several schools and ready for use. The materials used to create these projects are found locally or donated.

We play to light our lanterns

Empowered Playground Diagram: How it works.

In 2009, Energizer Batteries started developing, and donating smart LED lanterns, designed to light by playground power! The battery pack has a computer chip which regulates the charge to the storage battery. The lantern is the equivalent of a 25 watt light bulb and will last up to 5 years.

Creative Renewable Energy

The generation of electricity starts with a hub bearing attached to the deck of the merry-go-round.

How Energy Gets to the Lantern

This is how the whole thing works. The generation of electricity starts with a hub bearing attached to the deck of the merry-go-round which is attached to a drive shaft connected to a gearbox. The high-speed output shaft then turns a permanent rare earth magnet windmill generator. The generated electricity is carried by underground wires to a power enclosure which manages the charging and discharging of the storage batteries, protecting it against draining. The electricity is converted into a direct current which charges the deep cycle battery.The efficiency of this generator is over 70%. A solar panel is also connected to the power enclosure to give power during times of school breaks.

The Playground Learning Lab

It was also discovered that not only could the playground equipment provide light but it could also be used as a lab for teaching mechanics, physics,and energy transfer. By using the playground equipment and energy converters the children can study how it provides electricity to the lantern. Empowered Playground, Inc has created a science kit and science lessons that correlate with the energy transfer by the playground equipment.

Today, the playgrounds are functioning in 16 rural schools, touching over 3000 student’s lives in Ghana, with hopes of extending to other countries. In the coming years, Empowered Playground, Inc hopes to make improvements and extensions to their playground equipment and science curriculum, providing positive solutions in renewable energy! Could this also be used as a renewable and a science lab in developed countries?

Creative Solutions to Energy!

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Climate Change and the Global Food Supply

Some species may become extinct

The growing ranges of our food supply will change as the temperatures rise.

“When climate change is added to population growth, only the extent of future food shortage is unknown.”

By Dr.John J. Hidore

August 3, 2014—In the early 21st Century global food production is able to meet the global demand. However, the availability of food varies greatly from place to place. Approximately 870 million people living on Earth today are facing food shortages. These shortages result in nearly 15% of the population being malnourished to some extent, with many facing health problems. In Africa, a third or more children under the age of five undergo growth stunting due to malnutrition. The most extreme health problem is, of course, starvation. It is clear that food production is not keeping up with demand regionally, if not globally.

The Impact of Temperature Changes

Changes in climate are now having a major impact on food production, and certainly will have in the future. The biggest factor in climate change is the rapid rise in global temperatures. For instance, the mean temperature for May and June of 2014 were globally the highest on record. Nearly every forecast of global temperature increases, issued in recent decades, has been an underestimate of what has actually occurred. Since the 2007, IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report, the new estimate has placed the range of temperature increase as much as 14 degrees F (8°C) by 2100. This increase in temperature will greatly affect life on our planet, including agricultural production.

A food shortage is presently effecting a large portion of the earth's present population.

This may be a rare picture at the supermarket in years to come.

The Decline of Crop Yields

Because most plants evolved during cooler conditions associated with the ice ages, many plants are now growing near the upper limit of their range. Crop yields start to decline when temperatures reach or exceed the optimal temperature range. This is the case in the tropics as well as mid-latitudes. If the temperatures continue to increase, the result will be major changes in the regional growth ranges causing some species to decline in numbers.

Presently, the warmer conditions are now reducing some grass lands to desert conditions, due to greater evaporation and transpiration. It is possible that in the 21st century warming will be sufficient to make many plants extinct. Changes in the plant species growing ranges may become great enough to make some ecosystems non-functional.

Extreme heat waves can devastate crops. In the year 2003 summer temperatures in Europe averaged more than 10°F above normal. In Italy, corn yields dropped 36% below average. In France, yields of fruit fell 25% and wine production fell 10%. Heat also affects the rate of plant pollination. A 3 degree Fahrenheit raise in temperature, in rice producing areas, would cut rice pollination in half. Rising temperatures also increase the frequency and extent of plant diseases and pests.

Water Related Stress of Agriculture

Rising temperatures will, also, result in greater water related stress in agriculture. Agriculture is now the largest user of water on a global basis. Crop production uses some 70 percent of fresh water on a global basis, and about 80 percent in the developing countries. Evaporation rates will increase and, inevitably, less of the global fresh water will be available for irrigation. Over a third of the global human population now lives in water stressed regions. The ratio of population living with water related stress may increase to 50% by 2100.

The transformation of ecosystems will, in all likelihood, result in massive human migrations with the resultant political and economic problems. The possibility of such changes occurring with further warming is very real. Depending on how rapidly warming occurs, the problems will occur sooner than currently anticipated.

Future change

The global population is now growing at a rate of about a quarter million each day. In all likelihood, this growth will continue for some time. Unless food production can increase fast enough to feed the additional growth, the number of people suffering from food shortages will increase. That climate change will take place in coming years, is certain. It should be apparent that it will be impossible to return the planet to the temperature it was in 1900 any time in the near future. When climate change is added to population growth, only the extent of future food shortage is unknown. The impact on food production will vary greatly depending on the degree of the climate change, the geographical extent of the change, and the duration of the change!


The Bamboo Bicycle

An American bike from 1896. The frame made of ...

An American bike from 1896. The frame made of bamboo. Exhibited in Prague’s Technical Museum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Lin Smith

A Non Polluting Form of Transportation
December 16, 2013—The bamboo bicycle caught my attention when reporting on the Green Climate Fund Conference in Warsaw last month where the U.N. chief, Ban Ki-Moon, was seen riding around the city, and the conference hallways, on a bamboo bike. At the conference, the Bamboo Bike Initiative of Ghana was one of several projects being recognized by the U.N. as a Lighthouse Activity, a project which shines light towards the future, helping to build a low carbon and efficient world, “tackling climate change, health, financial and social problems.” They are recognized for the beacon of hope they shine on their communities and throughout the world. The Bamboo Bike Initiative provides an affordable form of transportation plus provides jobs for those in rural African communities.

The History of the Bamboo Bike
No one is credited with inventing the first bamboo bike, as it is thought many were building some form of the bike in the late 1800’s. The bamboo bike first appeared in New York around 1894, where it was on display by Bamboo Cycle, a company from England which patented it the same year. Following is a review sent to the company in 1894 praising the bike:

I am more than satisfied with my bamboo bicycle. I have ridden on rough, stony roads and it has shown no signs of wear and tear. I strongly recommend these bikes to my friends. The appearance of them is better than steel machines. There still seems to be a prejudice against them, but as my experience goes, it is an unfounded one. I believe they are as strong as any on the market.

This same review might have been written in 2013. They are highly recommended by those who ride them and stand up to any bike on the market, yet, they are not as widely accepted as carbon fiber or steel framed bikes.

Bamboo bikes today are made as road bikes, mountain bikes and racing bikes. The methods used to make the bamboo durable consists of smoking, heat treatment, torching or placing the bamboo in ovens. The poles can be joined using metal, resin saturated fibers or hemp and coated with a substance to prevent water damage.

The Bamboo Bike Initiative of Ghana
The Bamboo Bike Initiative was established in 2009 in Ghana to reduce rural unemployment by training apprentices to assemble the bamboo bike frames. The long term goal is for these apprentices to open workshops in their villages and train 5 or 6 more people to craft the bikes. The bamboo for the bikes is grown locally, which keeps the bikes at a lower cost, provides jobs for the unemployed in Africa and creates a healthy atmosphere, as it is a prolific producer of oxygen.

The Bamboo Bike Initiative partners with a company from Australia called Bamboo Rides, which supplies the equipment used to improve the precision and marketability of the bikes to meet European standards, where most of the bikes are sold. Growing bamboo locally not only creates jobs, but saves on carbon emissions, resulting from shipment of bamboo. Unlike carbon filled frames, which create pollutants at every stage from extraction to manufacturing, the bamboo bicycle frame is able to be recycled, leaving minimal environmental damage. Isaac Osei, Regional Director for Ghana’s EPA, states ” Vehicle ownership will rise as Ghana reaches record levels of growth, which will increase carbon dioxide emissions—educating people to make and use bamboo bicycles to commute will meet the goals for sustainability in Ghana.”

Finally, Mathew Sparkes, of the Guardian, writes about his bamboo bike ride, “When I first started riding the bike, nothing happened for a split second. Then, almost before I noticed, it sprang ahead as though it had more energy than I was putting in to it. It rivals carbon, steel, or anything I’ve ridden. It’s also as comfortable and soaks up the bumps. The feel of it comes from something that grows naturally—grass!”

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Solar In Africa: Putting an End to Malnutrition, One Village at A Time

drip irrigation in AfricaBy Lin Smith


September 21, 2013–Conservation of water is a necessity in arid zones and drip irrigation is far more efficient than traditional methods of watering crops and lawns. With yard care, sprinklers emit 1-5 gallons of water per minute, watering everything the spray can reach, evaporating into the air, not reaching the roots of the plant, and, generally– wasting water. Drip irrigation deposits water only when the weather is dry, then depositing it directly to the roots of the plant, the water emitted in gallons per hour instead of gallons per minute, as with traditional sprinklers. This slow flow of water by drip irrigation insures that the plant will absorb the water and won’t be lost in wasteful evaporation.


Dov Pasternak, a university professor from Israel, has been working to install irrigaton systems in arid parts of Africa for over 10 years, using diesel engines to power the water pumps for drip irrigation, as most of Africa is off the power grid (see satellite picture of Africa at night). In 2007, Bob Freling, of the Solar Energy Light Fund, wanted to try something in Africa that had not effectively been done before-combining solar and drip irrigation. Pasternak agreed to work with Freling on the project, even though he didn’t believe solar energy would efficiently run the pumps. Freling’s intention was to create electricity in villages, but he soon found out electricity took a back seat to a more important need–food! “Chronic food insecurity was their number one concern, it’s pretty basic on the hierarchy of needs,” he stated. Food could only be grown in the rainy season if there was no drought and if there was a drought there were no crops, which was directly related to malnutrition and sickness in Africa, particularly in children.


And so, in 2007, began the Solar Market Gardens in Benin. Women in Africa have traditionally been the gardeners, carrying the water by hand from whatever water sources were available, to their gardens. Bob Freling and the Solar Energy Light Fund worked with women in two African villages, changing their irrigation methods from carrying water by hand to solar drip irrigation. One village drew its water source from a year round stream, the other from 82 feet below the surface. Three, battery free, emissons free, solar powered pump systems were installed in the villages, the pumps running strongest when they were most needed– when the sun was shining, drying out the African soil, leaving the plants in desperate need of water. Though the initial cost was higher than that of the polluting, deisel fuel generators, the cost over time has been less for solar, the system paying for itself in 2 years.


The environmentally sustainable project has been a success, supplying 1.9 tons of produce per month in the villages, including tomatoes, okra, peppers, eggplants, and carrots, increasing vegetable intake by 500-750 grams per person every day, the same as in more affluent countries. The first three systems cost $25,000 and have already paid for themselves! One man stated ” As a child, I saw carrots in a book, and now the kids are eating carrots!” During the first year of solar operated gardening, the women farmers kept 20% of the produce to eat and were able to make a profit by selling the rest of their produce in local markets! And because these women are not spending their time carrying water they have the time to spend at these local markets, selling their vegetables, their profits often going to school fees and medical care for their children. After the success in these two villages, the Solar Energy Light Fund has included many more villages in their project plus projects in other countries, including Haiti. Solar Energy Light is now partially backed by contributions from National Geographic and plans to install solar systems in villages to include not only gardens and farming but homes, schools, street and market lighting and heath clinics.

As Plato said, “Necessity is the mother of invention!” Difficult situations, such as far-from-the-grid places in Africa and other countries, inspire ingenious solutions. What’s happening in underdeveloped countries is healthy for our planet, as they are leap-frogging the fossil fueled industrial revolution of developed countries and going straight for the Green Revolution, mostly out of necessity, but whatever the healthy alternative to dumping tons of CO2 into our atmosphere, future generations will thank us, instead of wondering, “Why didn’t somebody do something before it was too late?”


One last mention of a company that is doing something, Vortex Engineering. It’s a company that’s installing thousands of solar powered ATMs worldwide, focusing on rural needs in India, Africa, and Asia. They have been selected by TIME magazine as one of the top ten start-up companies that will “change your life”. I commend Vortex and Solar Energy Light for making our world just a little better place to live for present and future generations!