Empower Playgrounds Inc., or EPI, has an inventive solution to a problem that affects too many children in rural and undeveloped areas.
Not having access to electricity and reliable lighting that is necessary for daily tasks provides an enormous challenge that many of us can’t even begin to understand. Lack of electricity can certainly make daily life a struggle, but imagine children who often have to work, study and perform other tasks without any access to lighting after dark.
Unsafe lights, like kerosene lamps, are considered a luxury item for many families, even though they pose a great health and safety risk because of their toxic emissions. Those who have kerosene lighting cannot always use them due to the price of the oil needed for burning, which can take a large amount of the weekly family budget.
Taking these factors into consideration, EPI has developed a way to incorporate power needs and the necessity for children to have an area devoted to playtime to encourage positive physical activity. Designed to utilize a universal activity of childhood – play – the company’s schoolyard equipment has a dual purpose. Playtime activities on gear like the merry-go-round are also able to produce power that can be used at school when needed and to light up lanterns at home for studying and other activities.
The deck of the play area is attached to a hub bearing system, and as the merry-go-round spins to get the ride rotating a drive shaft linked to a gearbox helps rev up the speed. The movement spins the windmill generator, which is comprised of a rare earth magnet and operates at an efficacy level of more than 70%.
As the children engage, the playground equipment produces power which travels through underground wires where it is routed and converted to an electrical current. It can then charge a large-scale battery that can be used for lighting lanterns, like the LED lighting developed to be used in conjunction with the playsets, and is able to give off more than 40 hours of effective lighting in between charges.
A unique feature of the lantern is an internal chip that directs recharging and power output for optimal efficiency and also monitors the batteries for life expectancy and damage. Additionally, an onboard solar panel helps extend battery life and provides a backup energy method.
The lanterns, which are currently sponsored by Energizer Battery Corporation, are said to last more than 5 years each, and can be donated.
According to EPI, there are more than 500 million that do not have access to any electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Only 28.5% of the population in this region do have electricity, and in profoundly rural areas as few as 8% of people may have power.
In addition to helping to solve a community wide problem, they are also providing play areas in places where there are not typically playgrounds or parks. Kids will naturally gravitate toward things like a merry-go-round so the concept is a hit, and this notion has been successfully integrated into many deserving schools and communities.
Here is one example:
The company and its inventive products have been featured in educational materials for children, such as in a Pearson Education social sciences worksheet explaining how energy choices affect global situations. They have also appeared as a model program in other publications, like one provided as an energy literacy resource from the U.S. Department of Energy.
All photographs are from Empower Playgrounds Inc.
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