Real world stories about innovators and innovative companies are an important way to learn and we place high value on them at Innovation Excellence. We are very pleased to begin a series of case studies on companies who have been curated by Hult International Business School and Center for Innovation, Excellence and Leadership (IXL Center) in their book Greenovate!
The book Greenovate! documents 53 case studies that are defined by “sustainable, green innovations” (or “green ovations”). Each profile combines business innovation with a synthesized concept of sustainability, from startups to leading global organizations. The next case study in this special Greenovate! case study series is:
EMPOWER PLAYGROUNDS – Merry-Go-Round Powered Schools
Empower Playgrounds’ electricity-generating playgrounds and LED lanterns transform playtime into electric power for learning.
Empower Playgrounds’ equipment uses kinetic energy generated by kids’ playtime activities to make power available at night to light classrooms in rural, off-the-grid villages in Africa.
The playgrounds provide a reliable and renewable clean source of electricity and an alternative to the light of kerosene lamps for education and development in rural regions.
As of 2010, ten merry-go-rounds have been installed in Ghanaian schools, each supporting 18-30 lights, impacting the education of some 900 children and the number is growing.
Founder Ben Markham needed to find a means to generate power and provide light for studying in African villages during his church mission in Ghana.
The founder also wanted to make learning more engaging and recreational for young students and to provide access to hands-on science labs.
Markham aimed to provide manufacturing know-how and local job opportunities for the citizens of Ghana by basing the manufacturing and administration of the organization within the country.
NEED FOR A TEAM:
Markham invented the idea of using kid energy to generate electricity, but he possessed neither the team nor the detailed knowledge to execute his vision.
To enable mass production, the playground equipment had to be built using parts that were affordable and readily available in Ghana.
At a cost over $3500 each, the merry-go-round is difficult to fund for most schools and communities in Africa.
Ben Markham partnered with Brigham-Young University (his alma mater) to create student teams that would develop the equipment and the curriculum for science education of the villagers.
REUSE WHAT YOU CAN:
To overcome the lack of materials, engineers developed a design that repurposed used auto parts and steel from the markets of Ghana.
Empower Playgrounds has been registered in the US as a public charity so it can accept donations from around to world to fund manufacturing.
Empower Playgrounds made the first step to provide electricity for segments of the African population that would otherwise not have access to electric power.
In cooperation with BYU and Ghana’s ministry of education, the organization is developing a science curriculum to improve education delivery and to train Ghanaian students on how to problem-solve.
Designing and manufacturing the equipment provide hands-on engineering experience, attracting interns and Brigham Young University students to the organization.
Empower Playgrounds is planning to install 25 more merry-go-round systems in 2010. In addition, a zip-line and a swing system that generate electricity are both under development to add more power-generating capabilities to playground equipment in schools.
ENERGY INNOVATIONS – Sunflowers for Solar Farms
A solar array that is easy to assemble and maintain, making solar farms more cost effective in most parts of the world.
The Sunflower highly concentrated photovoltaic (HCPV) system is pre-assembled and requires minimal maintenance to lower costs and deliver better efficiency (using triple junction cells) than traditional CPV systems.
Highly concentrated PV systems can already yield 1MW for every 5 acres of solar farm area, making solar farms an important component of a clean and sustainable energy source for the future.
The Sunflower system has an industry-leading 29% conversion efficiency by focusing the suns rays with a concentration ratio of 1200:1 compared to 500:1 by traditional CPVs; its triple junction cells are 2.4 times less costly.
Increasing demand for modular approaches to solar farms that are grid-tied and efficient over the long term.
INCENTIVES AND STANDARDS:
Government incentives and the rapid adoption of renewable energy standards make solar farms more viable.
IDEALAB AND FOUNDERS:
The founders of Idealab, begun in 2001, are mission-driven to deliver cost-effective, grid-competitive solar electric power
CPV and other systems efficiencies have hovered in the 15-20% range with associated high costs per watt delivered
Highly customized solutions bring high costs in the absence of buy backs and/or standardized modules.
UNPROVEN TECH AND SKEPTICISM:
There is skepticism about the economics of solar power absent financial incentives as well as concern about new replacement technologies.
Increasing the concentration of solar rays from 500 : 1 up to 1,200 : 1 provides a major cost reduction when combined with high efficiency triple junction cells (38% more efficient than silicon cells).
The Idealab approach to systems integration across a large range of disciplines includes advanced optics, cell thermal management, tracking systems design and robotic assembly.
Low profile 10-module building blocks called “frame sets” are designed to minimize shipping and installation costs while maximizing flexibility for rooftop or graded land installations.
SOLAR FARM INDUSTRY:
Energy Innovations has been able to increase the concentration of its CPV system to 1,200:1, thereby requiring less than half the number of high cost cells used by competing systems.
ENERGY COST AND BALANCE:
The improvements in the cost of HCPV will significantly increase the ability of solar energy farms to become a major part of the overall energy equation in many parts of the world.
LOW COST + HIGH EFFICIENCY:
October 2009 announcement of world-leading 29% conversion efficiency is double the average of flat plate systems — combined with the focus on low costs, solar farms will become truly cost competitive.
Continued improvements in triple junction cell efficiency combined with cost reduction programs in place are projected to continue to advantage this system relative to traditional thin film solar and crystalline silicon PV over the long term.
image credit: empowerplaygrounds.org
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Tyler McNally, Ronald Jonash & Dr. Hitendra Patel are co-authors of Greenovate! — Companies Innovating to Create a More Sustainable World and members of the leadership team at IXL CENTER, the Center for Innovation, Excellence & Leadership at Hult International Business School.