Posts Tagged ‘solar’

When I was at PopTech in October, I saw the solar FLAP (Flexible Light and Power) bag, a joint project of Portable Light, Timbuk2, and PopTech.  It seemed like something that could help make mobiles in program work more feasible for staff, community volunteers, or community health workers. One of the main challenges we find in our work is lack of electricity, to charge phones among other uses. Photo: FLAP bag looks nice next to a pink tablecloth. 🙂

I already had a trip to Mozambique planned in November to facilitate a workshop with teachers, partners and youth as part of our youth empowerment through arts and social media (YETAM) project in Cumbana, a community about 30 minutes outside of Maxixe, and some 450 km north of Maputo, the capital.  So I decided to get a FLAP bag and take it for a spin to see what people thought about it. Electricity to charge phones is of course not only an issue in Mozambique.  Last year some of the kids we worked with in Senegal made a video specifically about the chore of charging their phones.

Trying it Out.

I brought the bag to the YETAM workshop one morning last week, removed the flap with the solar panels and laid it in the sun to charge. Jeremias, one of our project partners from Radio Mozambique in Maxixe, saw me setting it out in the sunniest spot and asked what it was.  I gave the 30 second explanation:  that it was a bag with solar panels, and it charges up a small light to use at night, and has a battery to charge phones. He quickly said – Oh! I can charge with my USB cable here, and showed me his phone. Then I had to rush inside to start the training.

At break time, I discovered a little crowd gathered around the flap.  Jeremias was crouched down, explaining to Badru (a journalist from Radio Progresso) and Joao (a journalist from Maxixe) how it functions.  Photo: Jeremias explaining how the Flap bag works to Badru.

So Jeremias and I did a short video interview of Badru, to see what he thought of the bag, how he would improve it, and if he thought it was something that could be sold locally (and for how much).  “This is really a good idea. It would facilitate the lives of people in the communities.  It has a light and a phone charger, that’s pretty essential,” he said.  I asked what he thought people would be willing to pay for it.  He stalled a bit, because he wanted to know first how much it cost to make and what the value in the US was.  I said I didn’t really remember (true). He finally said for the bag alone, about $5.  For the bag with the solar components, about $15.

Joao stepped in and said that this kind of thing would necessarily be expensive because the technology is not available in Mozambique, where most technology like this is imported.   In any case, I asked, how much would it be worth to someone to be able to have light in the evening and to charge a phone? How much do people spend normally to charge a phone?  “Well,” Badru explained, “you have to send your phone somewhere to get it charged, or you have to go pay 10 metacais a day (around $0.30), and then sit around and wait for it to charge up.”  So you end up spending about 300 metacais a month to keep a phone charged here.

Badru thought the idea of making the bag locally and incorporating imported solar panels would be a possibility, and that a bag like the Flap bag would be helpful for university students, government staff or NGO workers who spend time out in communities and need to charge their phones up.

Today Luisa, from the Casa de Cultura (Cultural Organization), Delcia and Eucidio (teachers at Cumbana school) asked about the bag, so I showed them the light and where the phone plugs in.  I asked them what value a bag like this would have, and what they thought people would pay for it if it was available in the local market.  Their first answer was that it would depend on how good the salesperson was, and that they would need to know what other similar products cost so they could barter.  “This is something we haven’t seen before, so we have no idea what it would cost,” Eucidio explained.  “But,” he encouraged Luisa and Delcia “look, it has light, it charges your phone, it’s a bag….”  “Ooooouu, then it must be really expensive!” they concluded. Photo:  Luisa, Delcia and Eucidio discussing the suggested price for a flexible solar panel.

Delcia doesn’t have electricity at her house and said a bag would be great because she would have everything at the home, and wouldn’t need to spend on candles or charge her phone outside of the house.

I mentioned that I haven’t seen anyone here carrying a bag.  People seem to use flimsy little plastic bags from the market or local store, or burlap sacks to carry vegetables, coconuts, etc., or they carry things on their heads.  So where would it be best to actually put a solar panel? They thought a little, and suggested incorporating solar panels on backpacks for school kids, or on a hat, a shirt, back of a skirt, on a parasol, or as something that could be set on top of or in the back window of a car.  Photo: Luisa showing us where she could carry her solar panels: na bunda!

Now as I’m sitting here in my little hotel room in Maxixe at the end of the day, across from the noisy gas station, slapping mosquitoes as I write this post up, I’m wondering if maybe the FLAP folks could add some kind of solar insect repellent to the bag….  That would be perfect.

Related posts:
FLAP power for the basics: illumination and communication
Pop! Tech:  Oh!

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