A Power Generating Playground in Ghana - An Engineer's Aspect


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Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Power Generating Playground in Ghana

From Empower Playgrounds Web site:

Who We Are

Ghanaian children in rural villages are expected to help with farming and cooking between the end of school and nighttime, so they are often unable to do their homework. Less than five percent of Ghanaian children in rural public schools pass their exam to make it to high school.

Empower Playgrounds Incorporated (EPI) is a 501(c)3 public charity focused on improving education in these rural villages.

EPI designs, builds, installs, and maintains playground equipment at rural public schools in Ghana. The equipment captures the kinetic energy of children at play. The energy is stored in a car battery and later transferred to portable LED lanterns.

EPI gives each school 18 to 30 lanterns, depending on the size of the school. School rooms can be very dark, especially during the rainy season. Using EPI lanterns when necessary in the classrooms reduces eye strain. EPI lanterns serve as a further catalyst for learning as children take them home after school to provide light for their after-dark studies.

EPI currently has six electricity-generating merry-go-rounds installed at rural schools in Ghana, as well as an electricity-generating zip-line at the fabrication shop in Ghana. The first model of an electricity-generating swing set is at BYU-Idaho and will be built in Ghana in 2009.


Empower Playgrounds, Inc. enhances education in rural Ghanaian schools by providing playground equipment that generates electricity from children at play, and portable LED lanterns used in dark classrooms and night-time study groups.

Primary Objectives

* Kids studyingProvide educational recreation that makes school more fun for the children
* Provide light for the children at school and home
* Provide hands-on science labs for the children

Supplementary Objectives

* Provide employment and apprenticeship opportunities for Ghanaians in the fabrication shop
* Provide educational and service-learning opportunities for US college interns


Merry-Go-RoundMerry-go-round core

Using state-of-the-art electronic controllers, wind power generators, and speed-increasing gearboxes, the merry-go-round is designed to convert a portion of the kinetic energy from children at play to usable electrical power.

The electric power produced when children turn the merry-go-round charges large batteries capable of storing about two days of play. Highly efficient LED lanterns with a 50 hour run life are recharged once a week. Smart recharging circuits ensure a lantern battery life of many years. The children learn energy management while using the lanterns each day at school and at home.


The zip-line functions much like a tow-line ski lift, but in reverse. It consists of two pulleys, a loop of rope, and a nine-foot platform. Kids standing on the platform grab the rope which turns pulleys as the children ride down. A generator attached to one of the pulleys harnesses energy from the children. A suspended pulley at one end provides a certain amount of theft prevention by enabling the equipment to be set up and taken down as necessary.

Swing Set

A team of Brigham Young University-Idaho students have recently designed and built a four-seat swing set with an attached generator. Empower Playgrounds plans to begin construction of the swing sets in Ghana in 2009.

News Coverage from ksl.com:

(Click on ksl.com to view the news coverage.

Playground created by BYU students helps to generate power
June 18th, 2008 @ 4:18pm
Sam Penrod reporting

A humanitarian-aid project is bringing electric light to an area of the world that has never seen electricity before.

It was coordinated by some BYU engineering students who just returned from Ghana where the project was completed.

The students helped a Utah company that designed a small power generator. It's powered by school children as they play on playground equipment that they've also never seen before.

The village in Ghana has its first merry-go-round, but more importantly, the first electricity. The power is generated by young children playing on the playground.

Ben Markham, president of Empower Playgrounds, said, "A typical Ghanaian child doesn't know what an on/off switch is because they've never seen one. They understand what the words mean, but they don't really know what that is, and so there's a lot of social science in effectively using the power."

A group of BYU students recently traveled to Ghana to build the first simple generator. The biggest hurdle for the project was finding the materials they needed in Ghana, building it and getting it operational in just 10 days.

BYU engineering student Ed Packer said, "The biggest challenge was meeting the details that we didn't know we would have to deal with there, like exactly certain parts would fit together because we didn't know exactly how those parts would work, you know the used-car parts are a little different on each one."

The goal of Empower Playgrounds is to help third world countries provide light for learning and to bring some recreation to children.

"They do so much with so little that it amazes me," said BYU engineering student Eliza Padilla. "The skills that they had and what they worked with were amazing, they cut through a piece of steel with a hacksaw."

Students call the trip rewarding, knowing they helped improve the lives of children half a world away.

Charles Harrell, BYU engineering professor, said, "This is a great experience for students to be able to see what it's like to fabricate something in a third-world country, to coordinate a project of this magnitude and then to make it a humanitarian project; it had all the elements that made for a terrific capstone project for students."

The next step in the project is to expand the number of villages with the generators and also to allow students to have lamps recharged at school during the day and then to take those lamps home at night, so they have light to study.

For more information on this project, click on the related link.

E-mail: spenrod@ksl.com

Related Link: Empower Playgrounds Web site