Solar Suitcases from North Minneapolis to Northwest Kenya Turning light energy into electricity across the globe

Henry students (l-r) Wuilian Barreto Zhinin, Kanye Compton, Lars Peterson (teacher), and Christian Vang with a Solar Suitcase.

Students of Principles of Engineering and Civil Engineering & Architecture classes at Henry High School built portable solar generator suitcases that will capture the sun’s energy and bring electricity for students at schools in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. They participated in a partnership with Wells Fargo, and the company “We Share Solar,” building a dozen fully operational briefcase-sized solar power systems as part of a national project.

          “There are 840 million people worldwide who just don’t have access to electricity,” said Henry High classroom instructor, Lars Peterson. “With this [solar generator] it can be beneficial and helpful for the people who are in dire need of electricity,” said junior Fue Vang. Officials say the suitcases are powerful enough to illuminate two to three classrooms and charge devices such as mobile phones or tablets.

Currently there is no electricity in the Kakuma refugee camp. “They go to like gas stations to have light to do their homework,” said student Chitpasong-Zimmerman. “With this device, compared to the home kerosene lamps, this can provide as much light as10 kerosene lamps, which is great for the people in dire need of this device for light for their learning,” said Fue. “They can have lights at night and children can stay and learn while it’s dark outside…,” said sophomore, Silas Chitpasong-Zimmerman. “Phones, it can charge batteries, it can charge maybe even a radio,” said student Sir Charles Hubbard to FOX 9 reporters at Henry in early November. CBS and KSTP also filmed Henry students building the suitcases.

Henry High is one of 11 Minnesota high schools participating in the “We Share Solar” project, collectively sending 26 suitcases to Kenya in early 2020. Two were mailed from Henry this past month. “It’s fun to collaborate with the students and hear them present ideas on how these solar suitcases can be used in unique and innovative ways,” said Lars Peterson. The hands-on experience is fueling student Mai Lor’s interest in science, technology, engineering and math.

Students are recognizing the things they take for granted that others globally do not have access to. They are reaching out, creating and sharing resources as they learn electrical engineering principles. “I wouldn’t have thought that I could do this, being able to build a solar panel at school and send it overseas to help other people in need,” said Hubbard.

It costs between $1,000 to $1,500 to purchase and mail a Solar Suitcase. Some schools are raising funds to build and send more. If you would like to contribute to the solar suitcase project contact Henry High:, 612-668-2000, 4320 N Newton Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55412.

Links of news coverage of the PHHS solar-powered suitcases: