Deployed at over 360 rural schools in 10 developing countries, Aleutia provides everything needed to quickly setup a ICT classroom in off-grid areas.
Aleutia’s field-proven solar technology combined with low power computers provides a kit that fits in a pickup truck.
Solar Made Simple
Aleutia takes the guesswork out of solar. By providing best-in-class panels, charge controllers, batteries and all cabling, field tested in rural Africa over the years, this integrated solar system is optimised for Aleutia’s computers and enables rapid, reliable deployment.
Installed in a day
By providing all the components in a kit, the Solar Classroom in a Box can be installed in a day by a local handyman rather than an expensive specialist. The panels simply need to be secured and a hole put through the roof to connect to the batteries. This solar system solution is so flexible that site surveys are not needed in advance.
What’s in the Box?
Avoiding a Single Point of Failure
Often solar classrooms consist of thin clients or zero clients (to save power) running from a single server (with lots of moving parts like fans) but if that server fails the whole classroom goes down. Even if that traditional server keeps working, the AC inverter can fail (and often does) – knocking out the whole classroom.
Aleutia’s approach is vastly better. The T1 computer has all the benefits of a thin client (low power, fanless, solid state) but are standalone PCs (fat clients). The R50 server is used for classroom management software (such as sharing screens) and content (wikipedia, media, etc.) so if it fails the classroom can still continue to function. Even though the server is not a single point of failure its fanless, solid state design ensures reliability.
Critically, all the computers, monitors and even projector run on 12V DC so they are not dependent on an AC inverter.
Efficient and Reliable 12V DC Setup
AC inverters are the weak link on solar setups – even expensive models with better capacitors need fans and are prone to failure, especially in hot countries.
15% or more of the power from DC solar panels is lost in the conversion to AC.
Benefit of 12V DC Computers
Even in traditional desktops from Dell or HP, etc. the internal components (memory, drives, etc.) run on DC power. Those computers are only supplied with an internal AC Power Supply Unit (PSU) because most of their usage is on the grid. But that “one size fits all” approach creates another 15% of efficiency loss and increases unreliability – PSUs are the main source of hardware failure on computers and have fans.
Aleutia’s computers run natively on DC providing a far more efficient and reliable solar setup.
Wide Range DC Computers and Equipment
As 12V batteries vary in voltage depending on their battery level (from 11V to 14.4V when fully charged), DC appliances need to handle that range. However many 12V electronics can only safely run on narrower range, ie 11.5V to 12.5V, which means that these can’t be used until the batteries are half empty and therefore require an expensive and inefficient DC regulator that sets the voltage to 12V exactly.
Aleutia’s computers and monitors run on a Wide Range of DC (from 11-15V) so it does not require a DC regulator.
Scalable to 40 seats
Although the default configuration is for 10 student terminals, a server, a projector and solar power for 8 hours operation per day, the Solar Classroom in a Box solution is scalable. For 20 students, the number of T1 PCs is doubled and the same file server used. The capacity of the charge controller is also increased to accept the additional solar power and batteries.
The Aleutia team has extensive experience on calculating solar irradiance, so as long as they know the geographic location, they can provide an optimised setup.
Remote Monitoring via GPRS or Satellite
When power is provided in off-grid areas sooner or later people will start to connect fridges, TVs, and power tools. Charge controllers can provide datalogs of battery and solar performance via a serial port but it’s stored locally (on an SD card) and usually analysis software is terrible. Aleutia has developed a custom Arduino-based remote monitoring system that takes data from the charge controller and transmits it online either on the school’s connection or a separate GPRS or satellite connection (the data is all text and lightweight).
This way battery levels and hours of use per day are displayed on an online dashboard giving full transparency to school officials, non profit or CSR administrators and enabling preventative maintenance, so that a faulty batteries are replaced before they fail.
Complete offline Wikipedia, Khan Academy and TED Talks.
Aleutia has long offered Wikipedia for Schools – 6000 offline articles curated for education appropriateness: http://schools-wikipedia.org/
This 5GB selection can be loaded on individual computers but we also now have the ability to offer all 5.5m English language Wikipedia articles with pictures on the classroom’s file server providing a nearly unbelievable wealth of local resources in areas with painfully slow internet connections. This 130GB of content comes free of charge and helps teach students how to browse the internet, even in offline areas.
We also include 6000 Khan Academy videos and all TED Talks.
Solar in Detail
MPPT charge controller
A charge controller allows the batteries to charge from solar while the computer is in use. Aleutia provides a Maximum Power Point Tracking Charge Controller which is more efficient as it captures the full output of the panels and allows larger and better value solar panels to be used (running at higher voltages – typically 30V or more). The size of the charge controller varies depending on the amount of solar panels used, but the charge controller is always equipped with a remote control display to show battery levels etc.
Industry standard 250 watt monocrystalline panels
In Africa, panels available locally tend to be small scale – 120 Watts and 12V – but the world’s solar farms run on larger 250W+ panels and this is where the best value per watt is.
As these panels run on higher voltages (30V or more) Aleutia uses a MPPT charge controller at the centre of the setup.
Optional Pure Sine Wave inverter
Although all Aleutia computers, servers, and often even projectors run on 12V DC for efficiency and simplicity, an AC inverter can be supplied to power less essential devices such as printers and fans for which 12V options are limited and expensive. Aleutia always uses Pure Sine Wave inverters which are more reliable and efficient than lower cost Modified Sine Wave inverters. PSW guarantees compatibility (since the AC output is exactly the same as it would be on the grid), whereas MSW isn’t consistent – some appliances will work and some won’t (as its output is only a simulation of what would come from the grid).
Batteries That Last for Years
So many solar projects fail after 6 months because shortcuts are taken on the batteries. Solar panels are commoditised and nearly universal in reliability, but batteries are not.
Aleutia only use sealed, maintenance-free Gel batteries from Sonnenschein or Lithium Phosphate Batteries.
All batteries have a limited number of cycles and this number is far greater if the battery only goes down to 50% capacity instead of 20% (Depth of Discharge). Aleutia’s charge controllers support LVD (Low Voltage Disconnect) so this can be configured in advance to ensure longevity of the batteries.
Additionally Aleutia over provides on the solar panels (inexpensive) so that during the day the batteries are at 100%, allowing more more evening hours and coverage on cloudy days.
Remote Monitoring via Arduino
Aleutia’s custom monitoring system measures just 15 x 10 cm and is easily wall mounted next to the charge controller, a bit like Google’s NEST monitoring system. It is included free of charge with our solution though do not yet sell it independently. Based on the open-source Arduino Mega, it’s equipped with an RS-232 serial port and LAN network port (to connect to charge controller) and Wi-Fi (to connect to 3G access point).
Though it can run from the classroom’s internet connection, Aleutia can also supply it with an independent 3G connection and globally roaming SIM card (the bandwidth is low so minimal ongoing charge) so that the solar system can be monitored independently of the classroom having an internet connection, especially useful for offline schools.
ICT in Detail
Aleutia Eco Monitor
12V monitors are extremely uncommon and often limited to expensive industrial/marine applications. They are usually also sensitive and can only run from 11.5 to 12.5V, but the battery bank will run from 11-14.4V.
Aleutia has its own branded Eco Monitor – a low cost 15.6” monitor (1366 x 768 resolution) that runs on DC from 11-15V so can be used without any external regulator. It uses only 5W of power and can be mounted to the wall or monitor arms (75 x 75 mm VESA). You can see it in our Ugandan case study video and we have a fixed price of $72 with our Chinese OEM.
However, for smaller orders we use 22" LG monitors with 1920 x 1080 resolution. These are 19V so we include a 12-19V DC to DC converter (same size as a laptop brick).
Aleutia R50 Server
The Aleutia R50 server is provided for classroom management software, such as sharing screens and content, such as wikipedia and media.
With a 6th generation Intel® Core i3 processor, up to 32GB RAM, and 1TB SSD storage the R50 combines performance with the ruggedness and uses only 12 Watts.
Aleutia T1 Fanless PC - the 12 Volt Desktop that uses just 7 Watts
The Aleutia T1 is provided as classroom PCs. Not only does this mini PC require less desk space than traditional desktops, but it’s also silent, fanless and uses just 7 Watts and the reliability of ‘no moving parts’.
Intel® Dual Core 2.4GHz Celeron™ processor, 4GB RAM (maximum 8GB) and Solid State Drive the a powerful integrated graphics that allow full HD content to be watched and with a high speed SSD (30-480GB), the T1 is the perfect student PC.
Projectors weren’t possible for Africa until now
Traditional projectors produces lots of brightness (2000+ lumens) and use large amounts of power (300 Watts or more) due to the mercury vapour (UHP) lamp bulb. Replacement bulbs are a huge source of profit and cost as much as $500. They are hard to obtain in the West, let alone rural Africa, and projectors end up mothballed as soon as the bulb fails.
By contrast, LED projectors consume far lower power and last for 20,000 hours and as such the bulb never needs replacing. Until recently, they were limited to pocket (pico) projectors that only offered 50-100 lumens, so a room would need to completely blacked out, but the technology is getting better and better.
In 2013 Aleutia equipped 144 rural Ghanaian classrooms with 500 Lumen NEC Project (running on AC). Aleutia now supply an Optoma 700 Lumen LED projector that runs on 12V and uses just 39 Watts – curtains are recommended but not essential.
Connectivity: Satellite, 3G/GPRS, Proxy Servers
Most schools that don’t have power also don’t have access to broadband. Aleutia’s relationships with global satellite ISPs such as Immarsat and SES allows connectivity anywhere, using a DC powered modem and a 1.2 meter satellite dish with monthly costs of about £200 for unlimited 512 Kbps connection.
If the classroom is within range of mobile networks, Aleutia can often use these as a lower cost, higher speed alternative. We don’t use USB 3G modems (which are easily stolen) but instead provide the Teltonika RUT500 a sealed, DC powered 3G HSDPA+ Access Point (AP).
The SIM card is mounted internally and the AP can be wall mounted. This can then share the 3G/GPRS connection over LAN or wireless LAN.
Since GPRS is especially slow if shared by 20 computers at once we often provide a mini fanless Proxy server that runs the open source software, Squid Proxy and has a 60GB SSD.
Solar classrooms in rural Bayelsa State serving students by day and the community at night
Rubiri School, Nairobi
A Solar Classroom in a Box installed within a day, transforming the lives of hundreds of students
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