In Uganda, where interruptions to the power supply are frequent, Internet access is spotty. But a low-cost, low-energy computer lab set up for training rural teachers averts these problems, which tend to damage computer equipment and make it hard to reliably access the Web. The result: Ugandan trainers and technicians can work with 100 students a day who use the lab as they prepare to become educators and education managers.
At Bulera Primary Teachers College, about four hours northwest of Kampala, a hybrid computer system uses both 12-volt direct current batteries and standard alternating current (AC) from the region’s main electricity lines. The lab, funded by USAID and supported by EDC under the dot-EDU education and technology initiative, has 10 workstations and is capable of running entirely from the power of the 12-volt batteries.
The lab uses low-energy, low-cost “thin client” devices, rather than standard desk-top PCs, which require much more electricity to run. The “thin clients” are about eight inches high and two inches wide, with no moving parts, no fans, and a cost of only about $600. Low-energy LCD monitors are also part of the setup. When it’s all connected to a server, the equipment has all the ports and capabilities of modern personal computers.
With the help of Ultratec, a local energy-solutions company in Kampala, the thin-client devices were connected to a 12-volt DC supply instead of the standard 220–240 AC power feed. Ultratec also supplied a battery back-up system that allowed some equipment, such as the server, the laser printer, and a scanner, to run on AC power. The battery back-up system takes power from the main electricity lines and provides a stable 12-volt system, even when the main electrical lines are not working. This combination of appropriate equipment and “light” power supply reduces the power consumption of this rural lab, enabling widespread opportunities for students who depend on the lab every day.
Originally published on January 1, 2007