Sol: the $300 solar-powered laptop

6 Aug 2013

We speak to one of the creators of the Sol laptop, which charges in two hours off four solar panels

A $300 laptop that charges in two hours in the sun has been created by a Canadian company, to give African businesses and students a computer that will keep working through blackouts.

The Sol laptop runs Ubuntu on an Atom CPU, and features four fold-out solar panels. In direct sun, the panels charge the laptop in about two hours, offering up to ten hours of battery life - handy for parts of the world with unstable electricity.

Created by Canadian telcoms firm WeWi, the Sol is set to come off the production line in two months for its first buyers in Ghana, and the creators are in talks with schools in the area. With that market in mind, the company hopes to get the price even lower than $300.

We spoke to WeWi's founder David Snir to find out more.

Q. This isn't the type of work WeWi normally does - how did this come about?

A. We have a subsidiary in Ghana, where we do government contracts, things like that. We talked about doing an education project... to deliver the syllabus digitally to teachers' computers. Being in Ghana, we noticed that there are a lot of power outages happening almost daily, or very consistently. Even in Accra, a large city in Ghana, you're left with no electricity.

Obviously, for us, having no electricity is something really weird to think about, but the more we looked into it, we realised there are more and more countries that don't have that.

It came to us that we needed to have a computer that was affordable but didn't need to be connected to the grid.

Q. How does Sol work?

A. It's very simple, and definitely not rocket science - we didn't reinvent the wheel. We basically made sure that everything works together well, and optimised the hardware to work with the amount of [power] output we were able to receive... We wanted to package something that would be really easy and affordable.

Sol laptop

What are the specs? How low-powered is it?

A. It's not a gaming machine! But, at the same time, we tried to get the best of what we could - minus the graphics, because the graphics cards take a lot of electricity, it will be a comfortable computer to use.

The standard model runs an Intel Atom, a 1.8GHz dual-core processor. Having said that, Haswell is something we're implementing in the North American model.

It's not an amazing computer, but for people who are just getting into computing, using web tools or word processors, it's absolutely perfect. For the price, we've managed to really package a nice computer - especially with the four solar panels, which are expensive.

Q. How long does it take to charge?

A. It takes two hours to charge, but obviously it has to do with the amount of sun - if it's not cloudy. The best sun is direct from the top, but what we've tested, a bit more than two hours will do it.

It will last about eight to ten hours, depending on how you use it.

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