Solar-powered Raspberry Pi school

I heard about plans for a new Indiegogo fundraiser last week. It launches today, and it really deserves your attention. (And, dare I say it, some of your money.)

Seventy-seven percent of schools in South Africa don’t have any computers – and 40% don’t even have access to electricity. United Twenty-13, a South African non-profit organisation, is looking to bootstrap a new model of solar-powered school computer lab, with the intent of scaling and reproducing the lab all over South Africa.

Taskeen Adam, one of the founders, says: “The fact that you are reading this online means that you already have more computer knowledge than the average South African public school student.” It’s a situation she and her colleagues at United Twenty-13 are making serious efforts to change, with the help of a certain small, affordable, low-power computer.

They’ve already raised sufficient funds for the lab design, for teacher training and for a prefabricated building to house it all in. But they’re looking for additional money to buy hardware (all the software they’re using is open source) – not just the Raspberry Pis and accompanying peripherals, but the expensive solar panels too.

Solar-powered learning

A secure, temperature-regulated classroom for 42 learners

Projects like this, democratising access to computing and access to information, are key in making improvements to local and national economies; and they’re key in empowering and changing the lives of the young people who are exposed to them. We wish the Solar Powered Raspberry Pi School project all the success in the world – you can donate to the project at their Indiegogo. If you’d like a full project brief before you consider donating, you can find that too at


Andrew Schroeder avatar

As a South African, I urge you to support this project. I certainly will be.

Michael Horne avatar

As someone in the UK who has benefited from an education with computing and is now making a career out of it, I’ll be backing this project!

Vivian Hodgkinson avatar

I would like to echo Andrew, and urge you to support this. Also a South African Pie User.

Taskeen Adam avatar

Thank you so much for the support Liz!
As Liz mentioned, I am running the project! Feel free to contact me if you need more information. You can also download our FULL project brief from our website, if you want more info on the project!
PLEASE SUPPORT :-) the kids are SO excited at the possibility of computers in their school! Really want to make their dreams a reality!

Liz Upton avatar

Thanks Taskeen – I’ll add that link to the article.

solar3000 avatar

That sounds great. A small solar panel the size of a back pack would power up a pi with no problem. And considering its a desert there should be plenty of sunshine – unlike UK where it rains every two minutes.

Scot avatar

Your thinking of north africa. mid and south africa are more tropical because they’re close to the equator

Andrew Schroeder avatar

We do have one area of desert, the Kalahari, but it is remote and far from where this school is situated.

Andrew Schroeder avatar

It’s not quite a desert, but it is sunny enough!

Ian Tyson avatar

May I ask why you are using ‘expensive’ solar power? I have a ‘wind-up’ radio – buy one and give one free. Please refer to and note – Can wind-up technology be adapted to power other products?
“Wind-up technology is so extensive. The wind-up torch came off the back of the radio, and wind-up chargers for mobile phones. Wind-up computers will soon come about”

Liz Upton avatar

They’re running monitors and other peripherals too. (Even if they weren’t, I’d hate to see a class where all the kids had to spend fifteen minutes at the start winding up their computers. They’re much better off spending that time learning.)

AndrewS avatar

It does seem a bit inefficient to convert the DC from the solar panels into AC via an inverter though, and then convert it back to DC to power the Raspberry Pis.
But maybe that’s easier/cheaper than messing around with DC/DC convertors?

I wonder if something like HDMIPi would be less power-hungry than a VGA monitor, and so reduce the size of the solar panels needed?

McPeppr avatar

You dind’t get her point. She said Raspi Pi might be to slow to be used for schools (as I understood)

McPeppr avatar

I was also concerning about the peripherals. The power consumption on Raspi Pi (+ keyboard + mouse + WiFi) doesnt matter much, but you need to drive and acquire a monitor. And still the web is all slow on RPi.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the RPi and I am working in the area of photovoltaics + plus I am member of engineers without borders. In my opinion this gear is a great addition for learning on IT, but if you want to provide basic hardware, RPi isn’t the only choice.
I am sorry for the negative response. I would like to ecourage you to head to Solar Energy Producing Companies. They love to share their PV-modules (aditional hardware) for these kind of investigations.

Taskeen Adam avatar

Hi Everyone

Thanks for the comments. To summarise:
1.)We are planning to use DC-DC converters! You are right, it is silly to convert and have unnecessary power losses
2.)We are using KALite. Also using a thin client LTSP model so the RPi’s shouldn’t run too slow. (We have a school in Lerato, Johannesburg currently running like this and it runs ok)
3.) HDMIPi is amazing and perfect! But it might not be ready in time for when we want to launch :(. They are only receiving their first batch in mid-August My only concern is the screen size on this.
4.) @McPeppr, Please could you send me the names of some of these solar panel companies! It would help so much. I have approached some in SA, but the best I can get is 1 250W panel donated.

Thank you for all the advice, I really appreciate it.

McPeppr avatar

Hi Taskeen Adam, how do I send you a private message?

Taskeen Adam avatar

Hi everyone!

We so far have reached 61% of the target to get the Raspberry Pi LAN up and running! We have 8 more days to go to get the rest! Please contribute!

Kratik Mudgal avatar

Tell me more about it, I’m glued to Pi.

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