Solar Powered Suitcases Bring Light to People in Need

By:Ellen Lomonico

November 7, 2015

A student and teacher work together to build a solar-powered portable light in a suitcase.

Photos by Alisa Haller

Editors Note: In 2020, SunPower announced the completion of the strategic spin-off of its manufacturing division into a separate business named Maxeon Solar Technologies, Ltd. As a result, SunPower has expanded its offerings to drive future growth. The SunPower Equinox® system now offers multiple panel options, including front- and back-contact panels, all of which are responsibly and rigorously quality tested to provide the best energy solution for your home.

Imagine a world without electricity. In industrialized nations it’s hard to picture. Light is always at your fingertips. Just flick a switch and our laptops, cell phones and lights are instantly turned on.

Yet more than 1.3 billion people worldwide do not have electricity, according to the International Energy Agency. This is a global technological injustice, but there are organizations working to find solutions. In one example, it’s as simple as an invention called a solar suitcase.

SunPower is excited to announce a pilot project with We Share Solar, an innovative program from We Care Solar that gives American youths the opportunity to learn about science and technology and to build global energy awareness.

Students construct solar suitcases, compact, portable solar powered units that provide easy, efficient lighting and electricity. The suitcases are donated to schools, orphanages and disaster relief camps in areas in need of reliable electricity. We Share Solar fulfills two major needs: improving education in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects and providing lighting to people in need.

SunPower and We Share Solar kicked off the one-year pilot program with a two-day teacher training. Ten teachers from Yolo County, CA., learned how to assemble and teach about the solar suitcases.

Their excitement around the new program was evident.

“We Share Solar is so amazing, it’s hard to know where to start,” said Deb Bruns, Yolo County Office of Education Coordinator of Curriculum and Instruction. “I’m a big fan of service learning, especially in a real world context. Kids learn classroom skills of collaboration, engineering and design. But they also gain global knowledge as consumers and future policy makers.”

The training was rigorous, inspiring and fun. Led by We Care Solar co-founder Hal Aronson, teachers wrangled wires and twisted in sets of screws. After a quality control check using a multimeter, teachers were finally able to take their completed solar suitcases outside and charge their systems using a 32-cell SunPower solar panel.

“I never thought I’d feel so accomplished turning on a light bulb!” said eighth-grade science teacher Carmen Wright.

Since the start of We Share Solar in 2013, 200 suitcases have been shipped to schools and orphanages in Uganda, Kenya and Haiti, to name a few. This particular set of solar suitcases is bound for rural schools in the Philippines, where 8,000 schools lack electricity.

Bruns said the community service aspect of We Care Solar attracts students who might not otherwise think they’re interested in STEM projects.

“Many girls don’t think they are math- and science-oriented, but the service aspect gets their interest and pulls them into STEM,” she said.

From classrooms in Yolo County to classrooms in the Philippines, the partnership between SunPower and We Share Solar will be bringing light, learning and laughter to many students in the year to come.

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