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Wired merry-go-rounds provide energy to remote schools in Ghana


October 2, 2013

Empower Playgrounds' merry-go-round

Empower Playgrounds' merry-go-round

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At first glance, a merry-go-round that generates electricity appears to be a charming idea. But Empower Playgrounds President, Ben Markham, came up with the idea in 2006 during an 18-month stint volunteering in Ghana. There he was struck by the lack of lighting in rural schools and dwellings, as well as the paucity of playground equipment. A charming idea it remains, but it's a serious one, too.

Like any merry-go-round, Empower Playgrounds' is designed for children to take turns riding and pushing. But in this case, the deck of the merry-go-round sits on top of a hub bearing with a drive shaft connected to a helical gearbox to ramp up the revolutions in the gearing. This turns a windmill generator, producing electricity with over 70-percent efficiency, according to the company. A buried cable transmits the current to a DC converter so that electrical energy can be stored in a deep cycle battery with management technology to maximize the battery's life. A solar panel is installed with the power enclosure to keep the battery topped up during school holidays.

The Energizer Battery Corporation, a sponsor of Empower Playgrounds, has designed an LED lantern which provides 40 hours of light from a single charge. These can be donated to rural communities in Ghana from Empower Playgrounds' website. A lantern for a group of schoolchildren for US$50.

According to Fast Company, the "lantern groups" are organized according to where they live. But because many families can afford to send only some of their children to school, and because, alas, those children tend to be boys, Empower Playgrounds is encouraging change by making girls "lantern leaders."

As an alternative to a $50 donation, $10 will provide one child a year of light, calculated on the cost of a system ($10,000), its expected lifespan (five years), and the average number of children in a school (200), according to Fast Company.

This is clearly a labor of love for Markham, who was formerly Vice President of Engineering at ExxonMobil until he retired early in 2004 before embarking on his trip to Ghana. He came up with the idea in 2006, and Empower Playgrounds installed its first system in 2008.

Sources: Empower Playgrounds, Fast Company

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life. All articles by James Holloway

I don't like this idea. Kids push on a merry-go-around for fun, but now it's work. It takes a lot of work to charge up a battery. They should have just bought a few more solar panels instead and let the kids alone!


Does the noisy/slow child get sent to the 'wheel' during class?

Most schools have problems with equipment theft, how long is the battery going to last.


The merry-go-round generator already has the most expensive part of a windmill generator. It would be better to to just build the windmill.

I would rather see the energy used to pump water and generate the electricity on demand with a waterwheel.


Now this is smart.

Danny Rose

Sounds good to me. Let children play while harnessing the energy that would usually just be dissipated as heat. They should expand the idea to other playground equipment. How about a seesaw that doubles as a water pump?


Good ol' child labour. Also agree with Ozuzi and Grunchy

Leon Van Rensburg

How about alternate roof sheets being that translucent polycarbonate like in most sheds. Passive light. This sounds like a feel good guilt release for ex-ExxonMobil engineers and a battery company.


Oh my G Child Labor! you people are ridiculous this is not drudgery or dangerous to life and limb it is just using what would otherwise go to waste "IF" they had a merry go round to start with but they Don't so give the kids a toy and stop being Silly or Misers.

Slow Burn the wind doesn't blow every day but every day the kids need electricity at school they will use the Merry Go Around so it Works.

Ozuzi lighting is not the only need computers, projectors can be supplied.

Joseph Mertens
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