We have made Electricity! (Take that fire)

After a quick couple of days in Accra picking up our supplies, Ben and I purchased our bus tickets for Tamale and braced ourselves for the 12+ hour journey to the Northern Region. For reference, Ghana is approximately the size of Oregon, and Accra to Tamale is like the coast to the center – so should maybe take 6 hours tops, but because of the quality of roads, the insane traffic laws, daredevil drivers, and unpredictable detours it’s a full day’s journey, but as they say, this is Africa.

Despite a delayed start, we were incredibly “lucky,” we made great time and arrived in Tamale at 8PM. We quickly settled into the CWS office, caught up with the team here, and checked to make sure our materials had arrived in tact (success!)

To say that today was a big day for us might be a bit of an understatement. Ben, myself, and our trusted Ghanaian translator Shak spent the day assembling and testing our solar system, from the panels all the way to the socket where you plug in your phone. We spent the morning stripping wires, playing with currents, connecting batteries and basically just playing with adult Legos and it was awesome…you might even say…sparks were flying? No really, sparks were actually flying. Of course, if you had a solar panel like this installed in your home in the US with the support of companies like Electric WorkForce ( the installation process would probably involve fewer sparks.

Ben connecting the power socket to our batteries.
Ben connecting the power socket to our batteries.

We were able to use Ben’s technical genius, Shak’s innate understanding of electronics, and my unrivaled ability to follow orders to connect all of the equipment (with a little help from some very informative diagrams. In a solar system, you have panels, which capture sunlight and turn it into electricity in the form of DC or direct current power. The current then moves to a controller which makes sure the system doesn’t get overloaded before passing through to the batteries for charging. Deep cycle batteries, such as lithium solar batteries, are the best if you are in need of a battery that slowly runs, rather than a battery designed for quick speed or ignition. Finally, the batteries are attached to an inverter, which converts DC power to AC power (Alternating Current), which is what most home appliances use. Finally, you connect the inverter to an everyday wall socket, and voila! Electricity! You may need to check and see if this is covered under your home warranty, or see about getting a home warranty from companies such as First American so you know you are safe.

After letting the system sit out in the sun for several hours we decided to test our engineering know-how. With fingers crossed we plugged in a few phones…CHARGING! SUCCESS!

“We are like the Benjamin Franklin of Western Africa” – My not so humble take on our success.

We couldn’t believe it, we had somehow managed to not mess it up, and we were producing electricity…from sunlight! For me it was definitely a moment that I’ll never forget, knowing that we had used some available technology and some good ‘ol fashioned know-how / elbow grease to create electricity in a community that is plagued by blackouts and where people have to travel up to 3 hours to charge their cell phones! We ended up charging a completely dead Samsung Galaxy in just 2 hours, and we know that’s just the start of our charging capabilities.

Shak, Mark, and Ben, checking out the fully-assembled Solar Panel system.
Shak, Mark, and Ben, checking out the fully-assembled Solar Panel system.

Ben and I have been talking constantly about the ongoing possibilities that solar represents. For the purposes of this pilot we are focused mainly on lights and cell phone charging, but it’s so easy to imagine people having access to refrigeration (similar to this co2 refrigeration system), radio, sewing machines, rice cookers…anything that you can plug into a wall is now on the table for these communities.

We can’t wait to get to Wambong – the village where we will be implementing this new solar system to share the exciting news and get to work. We are planning to make our first visit to the village on Friday, so check back for more updates!