In the belief that there’s no better way to teach kids about clean energy than by using it to power their schools, more and more school districts are investing in solar panels and other renewable energy sources. Some inventors have gone a step further and figured out how to turn kids’ play — all that energy expended on the playground — into a renewable energy source.
Critics have raised concerns that doing so could turn playing into child labor: if children have to play to produce the energy to turn on the lights in their schools, there’s the danger that they might be required — forced — to do so. But what if the energy that children are generating could be stored so they could use it later to study?
That’s just what one non-profit, Empower Playgrounds, is doing in rural Ghana. It’s one way that playgrounds are being built to create a greener, better future for the next generation.
1. Ghanaian Students Play to Light Up Their Learning
The average healthy 8- to 12-year-old generates about 150 watts of energy per hour, says Ben Markham, Empower Playgrounds‘ CEO. The organization has created a merry-go-round (aka a “roundabout”) that harnesses all that energy and uses it to charge batteries like those used in golf carts. These batteries are then used to power advanced LED lanterns donated by Energizer; each lantern can shine for 50 hours on one charge.
Empower Playgrounds has provided the equipment to schools in rural Ghana. Students there are divided into “lantern groups” who use the lanterns to study at night; before they had these, they could not do so after the sun went down. As Markham tells Fast Company, the merry-go-round system can provide 200 children with electricity for a whole year for at least five years and at a cost of about $10,000.
2. Solar Panels Provide Power and Shade For Arizona Students
In Toltec, Arizona, solar panels are serving a dual purpose for students. The Toltec Elementary School District is not only installing electricity-producing solar panels at the Arizona City Elementary School (ACES) campus to produce most of the school’s energy needs. The panels are being installed over the schools’ basketball and playground areas to provide students with much-needed shade.
School officials had also considered placing the panels on a roof or over a parking lot but using them for the students’ direct benefit won out. With yet another recent study connecting physical fitness to better grades in students, it is very good to know that the school’s playground — and kids’ need for activity — were given priority.
3. This Brooklyn Playground Can Help Prevent Flooding
Brooklyn’s P.S. 261 has a new green playground designed with student input. Not only can the playground absorb storm water runoff (300 million gallons a year) and help to keep the nearby Gowanus Canal from flooding but it also has an outdoor classroom, a storage shed with a green roof, a rain garden outfitted catchment barrels, porous concrete pavement and an open play space, as well as an artificial playing field.
Two other asphalt playgrounds (another in Brooklyn and one in East New York) are also to be reconfigured with trees, planted beds and fields, to help improve the health of New York’s waterways and minimize flooding (something the city’s residents were all too aware of after Hurricane Sandy last year).
4. If Kids Can Have Renewable Playgrounds, Why Can’t Adults?
If kids’ energy can fuel batteries, why not have adults spend some time on the jungle gym too? The U.K.-based Great Outdoor Gym Company has so far installed 390 “green” outdoor gyms. Work out on the gym equipment (including cardio, tone and strength-training machines) and you can burn off calories and charge your phone and keep the lights on when the sun goes down. An outdoor gym installed at ECO Sixth Form College sends any surplus energy back to the College’s grid.
Photos from Thinkstock
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