Planet Earth Weekly

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


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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.” http://www.empowerplaygrounds.org.

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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Hawaii’s Solar Industry

Grid overload in Hawaii

A Recent Slow Down has Taken Place in the Solar Industry in Hawaii.

By Lin Smith

March 16, 2014—A friend of mine has a son that has worked in the solar industry in Hawaii for several years. About a month ago he was laid off. Up until several months ago, the solar industry in Hawaii was booming, so why the lay offs?

Grid-Tied Solar

Since December 31, 2013, there have been approximately 40,159 solar systems connected to Hawaii’s grid on Oahu and Maui.This has made Hawaii 7th on the list of top solar states. In grid-tied solar, electricity is generated when the sun is shining and sends the electricity to the home generating the electricity, with excess power going back into the grid. Under a program that connects customers to the electrical grid in Hawaii, households with solar have recieved full credit for electricity they generate and send to the grid. The credit offsets the electricity they need to take from the grid at night or on cloudy days.

Solar Slow Down in Hawaii

So why has the solar industry slowed down in Hawaii? According to an article by Martin Lamonica at Greenbiz, “The solar industry in Hawaii has slowed down because of concerns that more solar may destabalize power delivery to neighborhoods.” The system is putting more energy into the grid than it is designed to deal with–the electrical system is saturated. “The excess energy can backfeed into the grid, causing over voltage and power problems and creating a danger for utility crews and customers,” says Peter Rosegg of Hawaiian Electric. A contractor must now get verification that the utilities circuit the solar is connected to, can handle the extra load before tying a solar system into the grid . Recently, the electrical company has started charging $500 for solar permits and requiring approval for each installation of solar. This has lead to a 30% drop in permits on Oahu.

The solar industry in Hawaii has hit a wall and other states are observing to see the outcome, as the same thing is likely to take place elsewhere. Some in Hawaii think this slow down in solar is profit motivated. In many neighborhoods the public utilities is telling people with newly installed solar that they can’t connect to the grid. William Walker, who has a new solar system with no connection, states, “Everyone is on board with getting solar, but the utilities company has put up a wall. The only reason we can see is profit motivation.”

Public Utilities: Drenched In Oil Mentality

Public utilities are in threat of losing billions of dollars throughout the U.S. with the installation of solar. In California and Arizona, the public utilities are pushing for “grid fees” to offset their losses. Lyndon Rive of Lolar Cito Corp says it’s “crazy for a utility to charge for services they didn’t deliver.” One state representative pushing for solar says, “Public utilities have a drenched-in -oil mentality and will someday be obsolete unless they change their practices.” An overhaul is needed to update our grids.

Off Grid or Tied to Grid Solar

Why not be independent of the utilities company and remain off grid? Off-grid is a choice. In an off-grid system, excess energy is stored in a battery bank, which can be drawn from at night or on cloudy days. The negative side of this is that off-the-grid solar is more expensive due to the batteries and other gear necessary to function. If you choose to connect to the grid, you will be able to use electricity when solar isn’t producing enough energy, but, on the other hand, grid-tied solar will not supply power when the grid fails, unless it has an inverter connected to a battery bank where energy is stored. Otherwise, during a power failure, your solar must shut down immediately for safety reasons, as it could put utility workers repairing equipment in harms way by sending electricity back into the grid. Another negative of grid connection is what has happened in Hawaii if the claim is true. Sending excess solar power back into the grid will create grid overload.

Here’s a final comment from OffTheGridNews, “Solar power is still a fantastic choice for alternative energy needs, For as long as the planet has existed, reliably and without fail, that hot yellow ball of gas has risen every morning on the horizon packing enough energy to meet our power needs consistently. The sun is a a remarkable, free, silent and clean form of energy.”


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Tokelau: From Fossil Fuel to Solar

Tokelau Sign

Tokelau is generating 100% of its electricity from solar.


By Lin Smith

Tokelau: 100%Solar!

October 27, 2013—-What is a Tokelauan you might be wondering? Tokelau is a territory of New Zealand in the South Pacific, between New Zealand and Hawaii. It is approximately 4 square miles and has the world’s smallest population–1,411 people. Most of the islanders live by subsistance farming, they grow what they eat–master gardeners! Why is this island important? Global Warming and climate change is a problem for small island nations such as Tokelau. Being so small, they feel the greater impact of extreme weather and rising sea levels. In October, 2012, Tokelau became the first country in the world to produce 100% of its electricity from the sun, funded by New Zealand! This is a step towards saving our Planet Earth, with over 625 tons of greenhouse gases NOT being emitted into our atmosphere!

Coconut Biofuels

Tokelau’s renewable energy system is made up of solar panels, storage batteries (storing power overnight), and generators running on biofuel from coconuts, which they have an abundance of since discontinuing production 30 years ago. This system generates enough electricity to meet 150% of Tokelau’s power demand, and is one of the largest off-grid renewable energy projects in the world! The people of the island will pay a small tariff that will be used for on-going maintenance of the system. In the past, Tokelau spent over $800,000 every year importing fuel. This money will now go into healthcare for its people and education-a win, win situation for Planet Earth and the people fo Tokelau! David Sheppard, director of the Pacific Regional Environment Program, said, “Even though Tokelau is small and, being a territory of New Zealand has made it easier to implement the move toward solar energy, let’s also look at what lessons we can learn for ourselves.”

For poorer countries, the challenge is to skip fossil fuels and go straight to renewables. Solar Energy in Action (SELF) is a non-profit organization that is working in 20 developing countries to install solar energy systems in rural and poverty areas around the world. Bill McKibben, educator, author and founder of the environmental group, 350.org, states that in affluent countries, such as the United States, small shifts in lifestyle won’t be enough, we’ll also have to fight politics to alter policies. “You’re not a member of the Resistance just because you drive a Prius. You don’t need to go to jail for resistance, but you do need to do more than change your light bulbs. You need to try to change the system that is raising the temperature, the sea level, and raise the question of how well civilization will survive this century.”