We often take technology and much of what it has provided us for granted. Take for example our reliance on electricity from powering our devices to lighting up our houses and businesses.
Imagine the convenience of just plugging your device from your bed taken away. Imagine walking under the heat of the sun for 4-6 hours just to charge up your phone. This is a normal occurrence on some rural areas in Africa wherein electricity is such a scarcity that citizens need to do almost a day’s walk just to charge their devices. Fortunately, the team at YOLK has created a way to solve this problem and more with the Solar Cow Project.
Solving more than electricity
Just as its name suggests, the Solar Cow has solar panels that charge portable batteries called Power Milks. The charged up Power Milks, in turn, can provide electricity for the whole household. The Solar Cow also has a large storage battery source in case of rainy days.
Although the Solar Cow is in itself a great innovation, it also tells a more meaningful story. YOLK’s Marketing Assistant Manager Shirley Lee shares that the cow shape is to liken the daily provision of solar energy from the sun to the provision of milk from a cow.
This innovation, however, doesn’t just provide an alternate means for electricity; it also acts as an incentive for children in rural areas to go to school. The children basically go and plug their Power Milks into the Solar Cow while they study. At the end of the day, children bring their portable batteries home to their families as an award for their attendance.
While it adds an incentive for children to go to school, it also provides itself as a solution to child labor. The issue with child labor unfortunately also stems from poverty, affecting the education of the children. With the project in place, it helps reduce child poverty and encourages parents to send their children to school while still gaining electricity.
I’ve reached out to Lee (SL) for more and she was kind enough to have a quick Q & A with me.
DO: What are the criteria for an area to be eligible to have a Solar Cow?
SL: The project specifically targets communities where the access of electricity is scarce yet necessary. This means people rely heavily on mobile payments for everyday transactions that require their cell phones to be charged regularly. Therefore, the ideal target for Solar Cow is Base of Pyramid (BOP) in rural areas in Africa. In addition to it being cheap, it is also possible to charge other various devices at home without the need to go to a far away charging station. It is an innovative solution that has all the advantages of the existing Solar Home System (SHS) while providing affordable clean energy to the BOP.
DO: How does maintenance for the Solar Cow work? Will the school be taught to maintain it in case of a malfunction or would YOLK personnel go to the school?
SL: The plan is to create easy manuals that anyone can easily understand so that a local staff at the community will manage. Once the sales of Solar Cow increases, YOLK will make branches in major areas so that additional parts and products could be supplied/repaired quickly.
DO: What is the timeframe for the Solar Cow Project? Is this an indefinite project that is being set up in the schools of the communities that need it?
SL: It is expected that it will take about 3-5 years for Africa to have a full electric infrastructure to enter the countryside, or for the living standards of the community to use electricity beyond the small amount of electricity provided by the Solar Cow. Therefore, we plan to maintain the system for at least that period after installation at school.
One Solar Cow at a time
The YOLK team has started the Solar Cow Project in a school at Pokot, Kenya. They are currently in talks with NGOs and the governments in Africa to set up more Solar Cows in communities that need them, with their eyes set on Madagascar and Tanzania.
The Solar Cow project, while its main purpose is to provide energy, provides alternate solutions to ending child labor and continuing education. Since its first project in Kenya, the project has won numerous awards, including the CES Innovation Awards 2019 under the “Tech for a Better World” category.
YouTube: Solar Cow project by YOLK
Photo credit: All used images are owned by YOLK and have been provided to us for press usage.
Editorial notice: The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.