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African Villages Glow With Renewable Energy

kdawson posted more than 3 years ago | from the don't-need-no-steenkin'-grid dept.

Earth 172

Peace Corps Online writes "The NY Times reports that as small-scale renewable energy becomes cheaper, more reliable and more efficient, it is providing the first drops of modern power to people who live far from slow-growing electricity grids and fuel pipelines in developing countries playing an epic, transformative role. With the advent of cheap solar panels and high-efficiency LED lights, which can light a room with just 4 watts of power instead of 60, these small solar systems now deliver useful electricity at a price that even the poor can afford. 'You're seeing herders in Inner Mongolia with solar cells on top of their yurts,' says energy adviser Dana Younger. In addition to small solar projects, renewable energy technologies designed for the poor include simple subterranean biogas chambers that make fuel and electricity from the manure of a few cows, and 'mini' hydroelectric dams that can harness the power of a local river for an entire village. 'It's a phenomenon that's sweeping the world; a huge number of these systems are being installed,' says Younger."

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I hate to be selfish (3, Funny)

Zerth (26112) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676078)

But where can I buy these cheap lighting systems? If they're cheap enough for a yurt, I can probably get a payment plan.

Re:I hate to be selfish (5, Interesting)

Amorymeltzer (1213818) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676138)

A lot of the work is being done by http://www.lightingafrica.org/ [lightingafrica.org] and you can look at the member list there. It's pretty unwieldy, since Africa is a giant continent, but the article itself mentions at least two companies:

http://www.fireflyledlight.com/ [fireflyledlight.com]
http://www.huskpowersystems.com/ [huskpowersystems.com]

Re:I hate to be selfish (3, Insightful)

toppavak (943659) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676346)

Amazon [amazon.com] , actually. D.light is one of the smaller manufacturers in terms of the size of their systems. The larger systems [duronenergy.com] on the market are a bit harder to find in the developed world.

This stuff represents one of the smartest applications of solar power- too expensive to justify at power-plant scales, yet the infrastructure-free nature of panels makes them ideal for distributed generation where the grid doesn't reach.

Re:I hate to be selfish (1)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676436)

A 4W LED will produce approx the same amount of light as a 4.5 - 5W CFL bulb or a 15 - 20W incandescent bulb, in other words, enough to stop you tripping over things when you go to the bathroom at night, but not really any use for anything more than that.

Re:I hate to be selfish (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676592)

Not correct. A 25 watt CFL is about the same amount of light as a 60 watt incandescant. A 4 watt LED is roughly the same; LEDs are about as much more efficient than CFLs as CFLs are as incandescents.

Re:I hate to be selfish (1)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676740)

CFLs and LEDs are about the same (unless you want to use only green LEDs): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luminous_efficacy#Examples_2 [wikipedia.org]

CFLs vs LEDs (1)

bagofbeans (567926) | more than 3 years ago | (#34677002)

Yup, CFLs and LEDs offer about the same efficiacy (lumens/watt) although most people prefer LEDs because colour temperature is warmer (less blue in the mix). However a 155V/230V AC operating CCFL is cheap to produce - the active components are only two transistors. Cheap AC operating LED lamps use capacitive droppers and typically have short life (see FTC lawsuit: www.ftc.gov/opa/2010/09/lightsofamerica.shtm ).

What's happening here is that the solar/battery system is low voltage only (so low cost), driving LEDs through probably just a resistive dropper and providing 5V USB outputs to charge the phones.

Re:I hate to be selfish (2, Informative)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676896)

I looked at LED bulbs here http://www.clasohlson.co.uk/product/category.aspx?category=light+bulbs:LEDs&id=88601375&_path=251882;85177594;88601372;88601375 [clasohlson.co.uk]
CFL bulbs here http://www.clasohlson.co.uk/product/category.aspx?category=light+bulbs:energy+saving+bulbs&id=88601373&_path=251882;85177594;88601372;88601373 [clasohlson.co.uk]
and incandescents here
http://www.clasohlson.co.uk/product/category.aspx?category=light+bulbs:incandescent+bulbs&id=88601377&_path=251882;85177594;88601372;88601377 [clasohlson.co.uk]

Incandescents typically produce about 10 lm/W. CFL bulbs typically range between 40 - 50 lm/W There is one bulb that only does 25 lm/W and one that does 59 lm/W.

LEDs manage about 60 lm/W - the range was 43 lm/W to 67 lm/W, so they are a little bit more efficent than CFLs, but not that much. The main advantage is that they switch on instantly, whereas CFLs take a while to warm up. The main disadvantages are the poor colour spectrum range and much lower lm/cm^3 so you need a much larger bulb to get the same amount of light.

Looking at your specific figures. I see a 60W incandescent that produces 710 lm of light. I see a 14w CFL that produces slightly more at 750 lm. The most efficient 2W LED bulb on sale produces 135 lm. There aren't any 4W bulbs but two 2W bulbs would produce 270 lm which is about 38% of the output of a 60W incandescent.

Re:I hate to be selfish (1)

BergZ (1680594) | more than 3 years ago | (#34677386)

As soon as my current fleet of CFLs burn out I plan to replace them with LEDs because of the lower Mercury content.

Re:I hate to be selfish (1)

N Monkey (313423) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676614)

A 4W LED will produce approx the same amount of light as a 4.5 - 5W CFL bulb or a 15 - 20W incandescent bulb, in other words, enough to stop you tripping over things when you go to the bathroom at night, but not really any use for anything more than that.

I recently purchased some 7W LEDs GU10 Halogen replacements and was told, over the phone, that the conversion factor you should use is 8x. Now they are installed, I'd say that seems a reasonable rule of thumb.

Re:I hate to be selfish (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34677194)

The physically correct conversion factor is between 4 and 5, for both CFLs and LEDs. Anything beyond 5 is currently only attributable to the suggestive powers of the human mind. Better color rendition usually means a conversion factor closer to 4, whereas a conversion factor closer to 5 usually means bluish light with a low color rendering index. LEDs can still improve, further improvements in CFLs are unlikely (the coating absorbs some visible light, but if you make it thinner, more ultraviolet light also escapes the bulb, so that's not a viable improvement).

Rule of thumb: 60W incandescent = 15W CFL = 15W LED

Re:I hate to be selfish (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 3 years ago | (#34677390)

LEDs do have one advantage that makes exaggeration valid in some uses. LEDs are directional, and small enough that even if they weren't directional a very small lens or mirror can be used to concentrate the light where it's wanted.

Re:I hate to be selfish (4, Insightful)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676690)

If it's in a lamp on a table, or next to where you're sitting on the ground, it's enough to read by. Extending available work hours to beyond sunset allows for more time for education. It also increases the time available for work. Both can result in reduced poverty.

Re:I hate to be selfish (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34676558)

What the article neglects ( who reads TFA ) is the fact that this cheap as chips growth in green tech down in Africa is due to "Low Cost Chinese" equipment from panels, inverters to CFLs
Still wanna complain about how China is undercutting business in the First World?
Complain away

A cursory google search will show multiple chinese firms who sell cheap equipment to consumers there.... while we are stuck with expensive sh1t

Re:I hate to be selfish (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34676692)

I wonder why Africans can't build THEIR OWN electricity systems...

Could it possibly be anything to do with a LACK OF INTELLIGENCE?

Oh, wait...

We aren't 'allowed' to discuss the elephant in the living room, are we...

Let's just keep allowing in millions more Africans into previously successful, safe all WHITE countries, that's going to work.

I mean, it's not as if our unseen Jewish 'masters' will benefit from divide and conquer, or anything like that.

Oh, how stupid of me, I must be a 'bad' person for wanting to LIVE.

I laugh at the idiots on Slashdot who claim to be 'intelligent' but then can't even have a logical, factual debate about race.

Re:I hate to be selfish (1)

trum4n (982031) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676922)

They don't exist in America, ill tell you. Land of the "OMG i can charge more for that cause it's SOLAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11!!"

Shit (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34676080)

Renewable energy is here

Ever been in a yurt? (3, Funny)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676088)

A yurt is essentially a surface biogas chamber. Owing mainly to the yak milk they drink all year long.

Nice comment (1)

arcite (661011) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676852)

You live up to your namesake. ;)

Re:Nice comment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34677612)

Who else is called BadAnalogyGuy? and what does he do? Make animal based fart jokes?

Registered users only (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34676094)

It appears that the article cannot be read without registering with the New York Times.

Re:Registered users only (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676206)

Google "bugmenot nyt".

Re:Registered users only (4, Informative)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676230)

http://www.tehrantimes.com/index_View.asp?code=232874 [tehrantimes.com]

KIPTUSURI, Kenya (The New York Times) — For Sara Ruto, the desperate yearning for electricity began last year with the purchase of her first cellphone, a lifeline for receiving small money transfers, contacting relatives in the city or checking chicken prices at the nearest market.

Charging the phone was no simple matter in this farming village far from Kenya’s electric grid.

Every week, Ms. Ruto walked two miles to hire a motorcycle taxi for the three-hour ride to Mogotio, the nearest town with electricity. There, she dropped off her cellphone at a store that recharges phones for 30 cents. Yet the service was in such demand that she had to leave it behind for three full days before returning.

That wearying routine ended in February when the family sold some animals to buy a small Chinese-made solar power system for about $80. Now balanced precariously atop their tin roof, a lone solar panel provides enough electricity to charge the phone and run four bright overhead lights with switches.

“My main motivation was the phone, but this has changed so many other things,” Ms. Ruto said on a recent evening as she relaxed on a bench in the mud-walled shack she shares with her husband and six children.

As small-scale renewable energy becomes cheaper, more reliable and more efficient, it is providing the first drops of modern power to people who live far from slow-growing electricity grids and fuel pipelines in developing countries. Although dwarfed by the big renewable energy projects that many industrialized countries are embracing to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, these tiny systems are playing an epic, transformative role.

Since Ms. Ruto hooked up the system, her teenagers’ grades have improved because they have light for studying. The toddlers no longer risk burns from the smoky kerosene lamp. And each month, she saves $15 in kerosene and battery costs — and the $20 she used to spend on travel.

In fact, neighbors now pay her 20 cents to charge their phones, although that business may soon evaporate: 63 families in Kiptusuri have recently installed their own solar power systems.

“You leapfrog over the need for fixed lines,” said Adam Kendall, head of the sub-Saharan Africa power practice for McKinsey & Company, the global consulting firm. “Renewable energy becomes more and more important in less and less developed markets.”

The United Nations estimates that 1.5 billion people across the globe still live without electricity, including 85 percent of Kenyans, and that three billion still cook and heat with primitive fuels like wood or charcoal.

There is no reliable data on the spread of off-grid renewable energy on a small scale, in part because the projects are often installed by individuals or tiny nongovernmental organizations.

But Dana Younger, senior renewable energy adviser at the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank Group’s private lending arm, said there was no question that the trend was accelerating. “It’s a phenomenon that’s sweeping the world; a huge number of these systems are being installed,” Mr. Younger said.

With the advent of cheap solar panels and high-efficiency LED lights, which can light a room with just 4 watts of power instead of 60, these small solar systems now deliver useful electricity at a price that even the poor can afford, he noted. “You’re seeing herders in Inner Mongolia with solar cells on top of their yurts,” Mr. Younger said.

In Africa, nascent markets for the systems have sprung up in Ethiopia, Uganda, Malawi and Ghana as well as in Kenya, said Francis Hillman, an energy entrepreneur who recently shifted his Eritrea-based business, Phaesun Asmara, from large solar projects financed by nongovernmental organizations to a greater emphasis on tiny rooftop systems.

In addition to these small solar projects, renewable energy technologies designed for the poor include simple subterranean biogas chambers that make fuel and electricity from the manure of a few cows, and “mini” hydroelectric dams that can harness the power of a local river for an entire village.

Yet while these off-grid systems have proved their worth, the lack of an effective distribution network or a reliable way of financing the start-up costs has prevented them from becoming more widespread.

“The big problem for us now is there is no business model yet,” said John Maina, executive coordinator of Sustainable Community Development Services, or Scode, a nongovernmental organization based in Nakuru, Kenya, that is devoted to bringing power to rural areas.

Just a few years ago, Mr. Maina said, “solar lights” were merely basic lanterns, dim and unreliable.

“Finally, these products exist, people are asking for them and are willing to pay,” he said. “But we can’t get supply.” He said small African organizations like his do not have the purchasing power or connections to place bulk orders themselves from distant manufacturers, forcing them to scramble for items each time a shipment happens to come into the country.

Part of the problem is that the new systems buck the traditional mold, in which power is generated by a very small number of huge government-owned companies that gradually extend the grid into rural areas. Investors are reluctant to pour money into products that serve a dispersed market of poor rural consumers because they see the risk as too high.

“There are many small islands of success, but they need to go to scale,” said Minoru Takada, chief of the United Nations Development Program’s sustainable energy program. “Off-grid is the answer for the poor. But people who control funding need to see this as a viable option.”

Even United Nations programs and United States government funds that promote climate-friendly energy in developing countries hew to large projects like giant wind farms or industrial-scale solar plants that feed into the grid. A $300 million solar project is much easier to finance and monitor than 10 million home-scale solar systems in mud huts spread across a continent.

As a result, money does not flow to the poorest areas. Of the $162 billion invested in renewable energy last year, according to the United Nations, experts estimate that $44 billion was spent in China, India and Brazil collectively, and $7.5 billion in the many poorer countries.

Only 6 to 7 percent of solar panels are manufactured to produce electricity that does not feed into the grid; that includes systems like Ms. Ruto’s and solar panels that light American parking lots and football stadiums.

Still, some new models are emerging. Husk Power Systems, a young company supported by a mix of private investment and nonprofit funds, has built 60 village power plants in rural India that make electricity from rice husks for 250 hamlets since 2007.

In Nepal and Indonesia, the United Nations Development Program has helped finance the construction of very small hydroelectric plants that have brought electricity to remote mountain communities. Morocco provides subsidized solar home systems at a cost of $100 each to remote rural areas where expanding the national grid is not cost-effective.

What has most surprised some experts in the field is the recent emergence of a true market in Africa for home-scale renewable energy and for appliances that consume less energy. As the cost of reliable equipment decreases, families have proved ever more willing to buy it by selling a goat or borrowing money from a relative overseas, for example.

The explosion of cellphone use in rural Africa has been an enormous motivating factor. Because rural regions of many African countries lack banks, the cellphone has been embraced as a tool for commercial transactions as well as personal communications, adding an incentive to electrify for the sake of recharging.

M-Pesa, Kenya’s largest mobile phone money transfer service, handles an annual cash flow equivalent to more than 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, most in tiny transactions that rarely exceed $20.

The cheap renewable energy systems also allow the rural poor to save money on candles, charcoal, batteries, wood and kerosene. “So there is an ability to pay and a willingness to pay,” said Mr. Younger of the International Finance Corporation.

In another Kenyan village, Lochorai, Alice Wangui, 45, and Agnes Mwaforo, 35, formerly subsistence farmers, now operate a booming business selling and installing energy-efficient wood-burning cooking stoves made of clay and metal for a cost of $5. Wearing matching bright orange tops and skirts, they walk down rutted dirt paths with cellphones ever at their ears, edging past goats and dogs to visit customers and to calm those on the waiting list.

Hunched over her new stove as she stirred a stew of potatoes and beans, Naomi Muriuki, 58, volunteered that the appliance had more than halved her use of firewood. Wood has become harder to find and expensive to buy as the government tries to limit deforestation, she added.

In Tumsifu, a slightly more prosperous village of dairy farmers, Virginia Wairimu, 35, is benefiting from an underground tank in which the manure from her three cows is converted to biogas, which is then pumped through a rubber tube to a gas burner.

“I can just get up and make breakfast,"" Ms. Wairimu said. The system was financed with a $400 loan from a demonstration project that has since expired.

In Kiptusuri, the Firefly LED system purchased by Ms. Ruto is this year’s must-have item. The smallest one, which costs $12, consists of a solar panel that can be placed in a window or on a roof and is connected to a desk lamp and a phone charger. Slightly larger units can run radios and black-and-white television sets.

Of course, such systems cannot compare with a grid connection in the industrialized world. A week of rain can mean no lights. And items like refrigerators need more, and more consistent, power than a panel provides.

Still, in Kenya, even grid-based electricity is intermittent and expensive: families must pay more than $350 just to have their homes hooked up.

“With this system, you get a real light for what you spend on kerosene in a few months,” said Mr. Maina, of Sustainable Community Development Services. “When you can light your home and charge your phone, that is very valuable.”

Photo: Thanks to this solar panel, Sara Ruto no longer takes a three-hour taxi ride to a town with electricity to recharge her cellphone. (Ed Ou/The New York Times)

Re:Registered users only (1)

neokushan (932374) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676350)

Mod this up,

+1 copyright infringement

Re:Registered users only (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34676680)

Thank you, was unable to read the article on NYTwat.com

Plea to slashdot users ... please mod my post up so more people see the link below

"Its possible to give the gift of electricity to more people for the cost of a six pack -- cummon we can forego the sixpack for a year right? "

http://www.oxfamamericaunwrapped.com/Green-gifts.html
while the Solar-powered home @ $575 may be steep. Why not gift a goat.

This Christmas managed to get a donkey, a sheep and some manure.... wife got a kick out of the manure bit because thats what she put under the tree for me.

do your bit, don't be a cynic

So many questions. (1)

cnaumann (466328) | more than 3 years ago | (#34677340)

The article makes absolutely no sense. There are no supporting details.

She travelled 3 hours by motorcycle taxi and waited three days to charge her cell phone? How many things are wrong with that picture?

She spent $80 on solar panels primarily to charge a cell phone? Again, what is wrong with that picture?

Sounds like there is a market for cell phone charges that are either hand cranked, solar powered, or apparently motor-cycle powered. What would solar cell capable of keeping a cell phone fully charged cost?

What is the cost break-down of this lighting system? How much is being spent on the solar cells? How long are the storage batteries going to last? What are the competing technologies?

If a village of 20 homes needed a few watts (25W?) of power each day for 4 hours after sundown every day, what else could be purchased for $1600 plus the cost the ongoing cost of replacing the storage batteries?

There's more to electricity than lighting. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34676128)

I keep seeing these stories about how some poor sod is able to light his house with HE solar lights. But that is kind of trivial. What people need is useful amounts of power. The kind that can run a computer, or a blender, or a power saw.

Without that, all you've done for them is saved them the trouble of lighting a torch. Or a lantern.

Re:There's more to electricity than lighting. (1)

ekgringo (693136) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676156)

Yes, but just imagine the billions of metric tons of carbon that torches add to the atmosphere. Won't someone please think of the atmosphere?

Re:There's more to electricity than lighting. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34676158)

A blender so you can blend what? A computer so you can use what software or access what network? A power saw? Maybe useful, but all you've done for them is saved them the trouble of cutting the wood themselves.

Re:There's more to electricity than lighting. (1)

fmobus (831767) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676576)

Maybe useful, but all you've done for them is saved them the trouble of cutting the wood themselves.

and God forbid those pesky Africans be spared of menial work by using more efficient, automated tools.

Re:There's more to electricity than lighting. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34676582)

They can blend the power saw, edit the video on their computer, upload the video to youtube, and make money from ads.

Re:There's more to electricity than lighting. (4, Insightful)

couchslug (175151) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676264)

"I keep seeing these stories about how some poor sod is able to light his house with HE solar lights. But that is kind of trivial."

Really? Turn off all your lights and leave them that way as an experiment.

Re:There's more to electricity than lighting. (1)

whitehaint (1883260) | more than 3 years ago | (#34677720)

Ah but isn't the point trying to bad that electric lights does not make for life changing evolution? I mean seriously, the industrial revolution was well under way before electric lights were around.

Re:There's more to electricity than lighting. (4, Insightful)

Duradin (1261418) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676276)

I hate to break it to you but torches aren't as convenient as the ones in Minecraft (although real-world gamma isn't as screwed up as MC's).

The West had oil lamps long before gas lamps but that didn't stop the brighter but differently-dangerous gas lights from replacing oil lamps. It didn't take long for the much brighter AND safer electric light to replace gas lights.

Any sort of combustion based light (or heat) source is going to give off soot and smoke and carries the risk of easily setting things on fire. None of those are healthy for humans. They also give off limited amounts of light while consuming relatively expensive fuel (do you use the fuel for light or for cooking?).

Clean energy for cooking would probably better than lighting but lighting takes a lot less energy than cooking so if you've only got a handful of watts to work with lighting is the obvious choice.

Re:There's more to electricity than lighting. (1)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676314)

Especially if you live in a place where you can broil something by putting it in a tinfoil U or black box at noon...

Re:There's more to electricity than lighting. (1)

CODiNE (27417) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676724)

Solar ovens work great in most of the 3rd world and provide essentially free energy for cooking on most days. Sadly they don't seem as well known as solar panels and LEDs.

I suppose of the problems is securing your food while you're gone for the day. Don't want to come home to a nicely fed neighbor and an empty oven.

A cheap solar panel can run an iphone (1)

arcite (661011) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676870)

Or any number of other kinds of mini-computers. Smartphones are becoming very popular in Sub Saharan africa.

Re:There's more to electricity than lighting. (2)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676472)

If you RFTA, it is saving him the money he used to spend fueling his kerosene lamp, and it is more environmentally friendly, and he can recharge his new cell phone with it, which was the main reason for getting the thing.

Re:There's more to electricity than lighting. (5, Insightful)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676574)

No. Lighting is the first thing that these poor people need. With lighting they get an extra 4 to 6 hours in a day where they can effectively work in their home without the fuel costs that traditional lighting involves. Like the article said, one woman with the lights noticed her children had dramatically improved grades because they had the opportunity to study at home.

Re:There's more to electricity than lighting. (2)

afidel (530433) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676966)

noticed her children had dramatically improved grades because they had the opportunity to study at home.

And THIS is why it may be one of the most important inventions of all time. Nothing will help raise the standard of living and reduce overall pollution in the world as much as increased education.

Re:There's more to electricity than lighting. (1)

nospam007 (722110) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676604)

"I keep seeing these stories.."

If you'd actually _read_ the fucking stories, you'd know that torches don't grow on trees, or more accurately that all the trees have already been removed for torches. Lanterns need fuel, available only after several hours of traveling and paying up several middlemen and they burn toddlers and risk burning the whole house or village down.
The saved fuel pays for the LED systems.

Re:There's more to electricity than lighting. (1)

Peeteriz (821290) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676650)

They are useful amounts of powers. Lighting and communications (i.e., power for mobile or radio) are the most useful things that need electricity.

Re:There's more to electricity than lighting. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34676844)

"What people need is useful amounts of power. The kind that can run a computer, or a blender, or a power saw."

What is useful to those people is the fact that with these lighting systems their children can study for school after sunset.

"Without that, all you've done for them is saved them the trouble of lighting a torch. Or a lantern."

Fuel for that kind of lighting is not free, but sunlight is.

Link Fail (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34676146)

Been nice if the editors could have at least checked to see that TFA was behind a paywall.

Re:Link Fail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34676236)

KIPTUSURI, Kenya — For Sara Ruto, the desperate yearning for electricity began last year with the purchase of her first cellphone, a lifeline for receiving small money transfers, contacting relatives in the city or checking chicken prices at the nearest market.

Charging the phone was no simple matter in this farming village far from Kenya’s electric grid.

Every week, Ms. Ruto walked two miles to hire a motorcycle taxi for the three-hour ride to Mogotio, the nearest town with electricity. There, she dropped off her cellphone at a store that recharges phones for 30 cents. Yet the service was in such demand that she had to leave it behind for three full days before returning.

That wearying routine ended in February when the family sold some animals to buy a small Chinese-made solar power system for about $80. Now balanced precariously atop their tin roof, a lone solar panel provides enough electricity to charge the phone and run four bright overhead lights with switches.

“My main motivation was the phone, but this has changed so many other things,” Ms. Ruto said on a recent evening as she relaxed on a bench in the mud-walled shack she shares with her husband and six children.

As small-scale renewable energy becomes cheaper, more reliable and more efficient, it is providing the first drops of modern power to people who live far from slow-growing electricity grids and fuel pipelines in developing countries. Although dwarfed by the big renewable energy projects that many industrialized countries are embracing to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, these tiny systems are playing an epic, transformative role.

Since Ms. Ruto hooked up the system, her teenagers’ grades have improved because they have light for studying. The toddlers no longer risk burns from the smoky kerosene lamp. And each month, she saves $15 in kerosene and battery costs — and the $20 she used to spend on travel.

In fact, neighbors now pay her 20 cents to charge their phones, although that business may soon evaporate: 63 families in Kiptusuri have recently installed their own solar power systems.

“You leapfrog over the need for fixed lines,” said Adam Kendall, head of the sub-Saharan Africa power practice for McKinsey & Company, the global consulting firm. “Renewable energy becomes more and more important in less and less developed markets.”

The United Nations estimates that 1.5 billion people across the globe still live without electricity, including 85 percent of Kenyans, and that three billion still cook and heat with primitive fuels like wood or charcoal.

There is no reliable data on the spread of off-grid renewable energy on a small scale, in part because the projects are often installed by individuals or tiny nongovernmental organizations.

But Dana Younger, senior renewable energy adviser at the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank Group’s private lending arm, said there was no question that the trend was accelerating. “It’s a phenomenon that’s sweeping the world; a huge number of these systems are being installed,” Mr. Younger said.

With the advent of cheap solar panels and high-efficiency LED lights, which can light a room with just 4 watts of power instead of 60, these small solar systems now deliver useful electricity at a price that even the poor can afford, he noted. “You’re seeing herders in Inner Mongolia with solar cells on top of their yurts,” Mr. Younger said.

In Africa, nascent markets for the systems have sprung up in Ethiopia, Uganda, Malawi and Ghana as well as in Kenya, said Francis Hillman, an energy entrepreneur who recently shifted his Eritrea-based business, Phaesun Asmara, from large solar projects financed by nongovernmental organizations to a greater emphasis on tiny rooftop systems.

In addition to these small solar projects, renewable energy technologies designed for the poor include simple subterranean biogas chambers that make fuel and electricity from the manure of a few cows, and “mini” hydroelectric dams that can harness the power of a local river for an entire village.

Yet while these off-grid systems have proved their worth, the lack of an effective distribution network or a reliable way of financing the start-up costs has prevented them from becoming more widespread.

“The big problem for us now is there is no business model yet,” said John Maina, executive coordinator of Sustainable Community Development Services, or Scode, a nongovernmental organization based in Nakuru, Kenya, that is devoted to bringing power to rural areas.

Just a few years ago, Mr. Maina said, “solar lights” were merely basic lanterns, dim and unreliable.

“Finally, these products exist, people are asking for them and are willing to pay,” he said. “But we can’t get supply.” He said small African organizations like his do not have the purchasing power or connections to place bulk orders themselves from distant manufacturers, forcing them to scramble for items each time a shipment happens to come into the country.

Part of the problem is that the new systems buck the traditional mold, in which power is generated by a very small number of huge government-owned companies that gradually extend the grid into rural areas. Investors are reluctant to pour money into products that serve a dispersed market of poor rural consumers because they see the risk as too high.

“There are many small islands of success, but they need to go to scale,” said Minoru Takada, chief of the United Nations Development Program’s sustainable energy program. “Off-grid is the answer for the poor. But people who control funding need to see this as a viable option.”

Even United Nations programs and United States government funds that promote climate-friendly energy in developing countries hew to large projects like giant wind farms or industrial-scale solar plants that feed into the grid. A $300 million solar project is much easier to finance and monitor than 10 million home-scale solar systems in mud huts spread across a continent.

As a result, money does not flow to the poorest areas. Of the $162 billion invested in renewable energy last year, according to the United Nations, experts estimate that $44 billion was spent in China, India and Brazil collectively, and $7.5 billion in the many poorer countries.

Only 6 to 7 percent of solar panels are manufactured to produce electricity that does not feed into the grid; that includes systems like Ms. Ruto’s and solar panels that light American parking lots and football stadiums.

Still, some new models are emerging. Husk Power Systems, a young company supported by a mix of private investment and nonprofit funds, has built 60 village power plants in rural India that make electricity from rice husks for 250 hamlets since 2007.

In Nepal and Indonesia, the United Nations Development Program has helped finance the construction of very small hydroelectric plants that have brought electricity to remote mountain communities. Morocco provides subsidized solar home systems at a cost of $100 each to remote rural areas where expanding the national grid is not cost-effective.

What has most surprised some experts in the field is the recent emergence of a true market in Africa for home-scale renewable energy and for appliances that consume less energy. As the cost of reliable equipment decreases, families have proved ever more willing to buy it by selling a goat or borrowing money from a relative overseas, for example.

The explosion of cellphone use in rural Africa has been an enormous motivating factor. Because rural regions of many African countries lack banks, the cellphone has been embraced as a tool for commercial transactions as well as personal communications, adding an incentive to electrify for the sake of recharging.

M-Pesa, Kenya’s largest mobile phone money transfer service, handles an annual cash flow equivalent to more than 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, most in tiny transactions that rarely exceed $20.

The cheap renewable energy systems also allow the rural poor to save money on candles, charcoal, batteries, wood and kerosene. “So there is an ability to pay and a willingness to pay,” said Mr. Younger of the International Finance Corporation.

In another Kenyan village, Lochorai, Alice Wangui, 45, and Agnes Mwaforo, 35, formerly subsistence farmers, now operate a booming business selling and installing energy-efficient wood-burning cooking stoves made of clay and metal for a cost of $5. Wearing matching bright orange tops and skirts, they walk down rutted dirt paths with cellphones ever at their ears, edging past goats and dogs to visit customers and to calm those on the waiting list.

Hunched over her new stove as she stirred a stew of potatoes and beans, Naomi Muriuki, 58, volunteered that the appliance had more than halved her use of firewood. Wood has become harder to find and expensive to buy as the government tries to limit deforestation, she added.

In Tumsifu, a slightly more prosperous village of dairy farmers, Virginia Wairimu, 35, is benefiting from an underground tank in which the manure from her three cows is converted to biogas, which is then pumped through a rubber tube to a gas burner.

“I can just get up and make breakfast," Ms. Wairimu said. The system was financed with a $400 loan from a demonstration project that has since expired.

In Kiptusuri, the Firefly LED system purchased by Ms. Ruto is this year’s must-have item. The smallest one, which costs $12, consists of a solar panel that can be placed in a window or on a roof and is connected to a desk lamp and a phone charger. Slightly larger units can run radios and black-and-white television sets.

Of course, such systems cannot compare with a grid connection in the industrialized world. A week of rain can mean no lights. And items like refrigerators need more, and more consistent, power than a panel provides.

Still, in Kenya, even grid-based electricity is intermittent and expensive: families must pay more than $350 just to have their homes hooked up.

“With this system, you get a real light for what you spend on kerosene in a few months,” said Mr. Maina, of Sustainable Community Development Services. “When you can light your home and charge your phone, that is very valuable.”

Re:Link Fail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34677050)

It's not... you've gotta register for their bullshit, but once you've jumped through that bloody hoop article is free.

Reading light (5, Insightful)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676150)

Don't underestimate the importance of having interior light after sundown. In many villages, it is impossible to do any reading or studying since there is no artificial light, and work must be done outside while the sun is up. We take for granted the ability to read a book after the sun goes down, but this ability is critical for poor people in developing nations to better themselves.

Re:Reading light (4, Funny)

feepness (543479) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676298)

Don't underestimate the importance of having interior light after sundown. In many villages, it is impossible to do any reading or studying since there is no artificial light.

I don't understand. Why don't they just switch from e-ink readers to LCD tablets?

Re:Reading light (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676384)

Most of these places are actually using something more advanced than a simple LCD tablet; a wireless platform that never needs charging!

http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2009/3/9/

Re:Reading light (2)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676484)

Or just burn a book to light the room. Oh, wait...

Re:Reading light (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34676340)

>> it is impossible to do any reading or studying since there is no artificial light

What, Kindles don't have a backlighting mode?

Re:Reading light (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34676608)

In many villages, it is impossible to do any reading or studying since there is no artificial light,

So they're so poor they can't afford candles?
Or maybe they're studying how to make candles?

  I guess I'm still confused how LED lighting can be cheaper than incandescent (or a candle).
Or maybe the LEDs used in these countries get to use lead (and other ugly stuff) to reduce costs.

Re:Reading light (4, Informative)

Idarubicin (579475) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676900)

I guess I'm still confused how LED lighting can be cheaper than incandescent (or a candle).

Not every place in the world has centralized, reliable electricity. Running a generator in a remote location requires regular maintenance and spare parts, distribution wires to every home, and a reliable source of gasoline or diesel. Using LED lamps means needing less than a tenth of the generation and storage capacity you would need for incandescents -- each home can supply its own needs with a single moderately-sized and -priced panel. Not only that, but LED lamps will last orders of magnitude longer than incandescents (close enough to 'forever' in this application as to make no difference), and are virtually unbreakable -- there are also places on Earth where you can't just drive your SUV to Wal-Mart for a new pack of bulbs.

Candles don't suffer from being off-grid, but have you actually ever tried to light a room using just candles? If you're trying to illuminate (for reading and writing, or any sort of detailed handwork) instead of just trying to get freaky on the couch, candles are a pretty crappy source of light. You need a lot of open flames to avoid eyestrain, which means both a large attendant fire risk and - for the entire village - literally tons of candles every year.

If you give a man a candle, he'll have low-quality light for an evening. If you give a man an LED lamp and solar panel, he'll have light for decades. The higher up-front cost is more than balanced by the near-zero recurring cost and - particularly - by the socioeconomic benefit of reliable, constant, work-compatible night-time light.

Re:Reading light (1)

The Shootist (324679) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676770)

Funny (interesting) how old Honest Abe Lincoln managed to study (by candlelight) after sundown.

As long as these solar panels and LED lights are paid for by something other than my tax dollars, I suppose it's OK.

Re:Reading light (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34677590)

For the record, I'm a US citizen and I'd be happy to see some of my (and your) tax dollars pay for this.

Re:Reading light (1)

lysdexia (897) | more than 3 years ago | (#34677664)

Probably the same way Malcom X did in prison: with great damage to his eyeballs.

Subject and body conflict, again... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34676152)

When did Inner Mongolia move to Africa?

Re:Subject and body conflict, again... (1)

Asmor (775910) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676290)

Didn't Russia attack Mongolia and annex it to Africa?

Wait, that's not right. Is it? I can never remember if annex means what I think it means.

Re:Subject and body conflict, again... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34676796)

Jigsaw Risk. Two forms of entertainment combined into one!

Panels and batteries still pricey and crappy (0)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676272)

I call semi-bullshit. I've put a solar panel array in the back yard. 4, 80-watt kyoceras charging as many batteries. It works fine, but it wasn't cheap (about $3000 for panels, box, charge controller, inverter). And it doesn't do much. Yes, it runs small lights, a TV and a computer. Maybe a drill and a blender. Forget it for cooking. And forget it if you have a string of cloudy days.

For my money, the current crop of solar panels and batteries are still pretty poorly designed, expensive and inefficient. At the very least, scalable solar power systems should have been integrated (battery, panel, and inverter in one box) and modularized for plug and play long ago. I know Clarian Power is trying to do this, but they don't have a shippable product yet.

At the moment I'd put it into the category of a rich man's toy. If there are *cheap* solar panels, I'd love to know where to buy them. If anyone has a line on cheap *non-touchy* nickel-iron batteries, i'd like to hear about that too.

Re:Panels and batteries still pricey and crappy (3, Informative)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676292)

People in poor areas aren't running all those appliances; they're running 4-watt light bulbs per TFS. Plus prices in the US aren't the same as around the world.

Re:Panels and batteries still pricey and crappy (2)

BattleWaryMushroom (1964952) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676348)

These are smaller panels, intended for basic needs--i.e. lights after dark. 4 Watts for several hours lighting a room, or even a small portion of a farm plot for plants or livestock... Now productivity doesn't stop at dusk. 18 hours days become possible... For cooking: the shi-t-reactors. Ever burn a buffalo turd? It burns. : )

Re:Panels and batteries still pricey and crappy (1)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676356)

According to TFA we're talking about China selling directly to Africa. Aside from the lack of safety concerns I think they also have an advantage in that they aren't being held back by a billion patents and trolls.

Also (1)

arcite (661011) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676766)

There are many NGOs building up skills so that the locals can learn to become technicians to assemble the solar lights, cookers, chargers, ect... using the basic raw materials - which also has the added benefit of providing employment and ensuring sustainability. When things break down, you need someone in the village who has the spare parts and know-how to fix it.

Re:Also (1)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 3 years ago | (#34677158)

Imho thats the real difference between this and other "solutions" the first world throws at africa. Infrastructure solutions like these solar panels can actually be installed, maintained, and used readily with minimal outside help.

Dumping a bunch of unmaintainable infrastructure down there won't ever get anywhere, but if everyone got together and made a bunch of really durable "just good enough" solar panels with really simple and easily repairable parts and just flooded the place with them then a whole lot more could be accomplished.

Re:Panels and batteries still pricey and crappy (3, Insightful)

localman57 (1340533) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676406)

They're essentially using scaled up versions of those stakes you stick in the yard next to your cement walk to light their houses. You know, the ones that cost 8 bucks and consist of a small solar panel, a couple of NiCads, an ic and an LED or two?

Re:Panels and batteries still pricey and crappy (4, Insightful)

Zumbs (1241138) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676478)

Aside from what other posters have noted, I think you forget one crusial point: You have access to a well maintained electrical system, an African village does not. The alternative to using decentralized renewable energy sources is to wait for the central government to build power plants and wires all over the country. Which requires a lot of organization and stability, not to mention that such structures are prime targets during the unrests that plague Africa.

To some extent this is similar to how phone networks are spreading in Africa. Building centralized phone networks and putting copper in the ground requires a large investment, making it somewhat infeasable. However, building a few mobile phone towers is a much smaller investment and, thus, much more feasable for a business. Over time, if the business yields a profit, more towers can be constructed, giving better coverage. Or one can make trade aggreements between the different service providers to ensure maximum coverage.

Re:Panels and batteries still pricey and crappy (4, Interesting)

rbrander (73222) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676952)

Bingo. Most of these commenters are clearly not reading TFA. It describes the woman having to take a 3-hour ride and pay a fee *to charge her cell phone*. This economic decision of hers wasn't made lightly, she shopped and worked it out the way you'd have to justify buying a car. With this trickle of power, she has lighting at night, and she can charge the cell phone, and she can charge others in the village to charge *their* cell-phones, though that payback is just for early adopters; everybody in her village will have them soon.

The picture gets better going forward five years. By then, most poor Africans will have cell phones. LED lighting is expected to double in lumens/watt efficiency in that time, and more so in economic efficiency as prices may drop by 40%. (The market for LED over here is going to explode soon, because Compact-Fluorescent is always going to look bluish and cold, but LED's are coming out now with CRI [colour indexes] as nice as incandescent. The economies of scale will start to kick in then.) And, of course, solar panels are improving too.

At some point, development in these places will reach a point where they have so many electrical needs that they will pay for a few local wires to a small generator. Once the locals pay to wire up the village, a market has just appeared for an entrepreneur who can get a line out to them from a real power station. At least we can hope that works, since 50 years of attempts to teleport these villages from nothing to mid-20th century in one Big Development have done almost nothing but fail.

It doesn't take much to improve rural people (2)

arcite (661011) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676720)

lives. Give them a $20 cellphone and a $20 solar panel with LED light and battery charger; this alone will transform their life in a multitude of ways.

Re:Panels and batteries still pricey and crappy (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676880)

A cheap 20-30W panel and a cheap car battery will go a long way toward charging a cell phone, running a radio and providing a few hours of light at night, which is what they're after.

Re:Panels and batteries still pricey and crappy (2)

Idarubicin (579475) | more than 3 years ago | (#34677186)

I've put a solar panel array in the back yard....it wasn't cheap...

How much would it have cost you to have grid power if it hadn't been installed already at your house? If the nearest bit of the grid were just a mile away, you'd probably be out a good $50,000 -- and a lot of these villages are a lot further from reliable power than that. Don't forget that in some of these remote areas a long stretch of unguarded power line might as well have a "Steal me for free scrap metal!" sign on it, too. Gasoline or diesel (not to mention spare parts) for a generator are going to be costly and difficult to acquire.

If each home runs a pair of 4-watt LEDs for six hours each evening, that's 48 watt-hours: four hours of daytime sunlight from a small 12-watt panel (let's say five hours to allow for losses). That's well below-average sun for rural Africa, and even a modest battery should be able to carry them through a few days of cloud. (In a pinch, they can cut back to one lamp for a few nights, too.) There's no inverter costs or losses; the whole system can run at 12 volts DC.

Global Paradigm Shift (1)

BattleWaryMushroom (1964952) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676286)

One possible change that could result from this is a global paradigm shift about energy use. Poor countries that have been ignored (and largely overpopulated) or abused by larger, richer countries, can now change their literacy rates, enabling them to join the global markets--and conversations. The use of energy in first world countries is to a great extent exorbitant and capricious. Having a poor neighbor with equivalent education (India?) may have a dramatic effect on global policies--i.e. the changes of having India and China in the G20+ Summits. Bigger changes: solar power (not Fusion-on-Earth!) may become the (only practical) savior of climate change... It's fusion at a safe distance (93 million miles away) and yields more energy than the next 10 generations will ever need.

Paywall (2)

pinkeen (1804300) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676362)

I don't know why but this link bypasses the paywall: click [nytimes.com] .

Re:Paywall (1)

pinkeen (1804300) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676380)

Or maybe there isn't a paywall but the OP posted a wrong link (through his account).

Re:Paywall (1)

BattleWaryMushroom (1964952) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676420)

I don't know why but this link bypasses the paywall: click [nytimes.com] .

Because it's in the "Environment" section. No one reads that.

Don't shun the darkness! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34676370)

Why can't they just leave the dark nights dark?

People in the west are suffering all sorts of ailments and syndromes simply due to poor sleep hygiene allowed by electrical lighting. We are constantly messing with our brains with non-natural light triggers that confuse our sense of time. Is it really the end of the world if their productivity is limited to daylight hours in Africa?

Re:Don't shun the darkness! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34676516)

Well yeah... I'd be a much healthier person with 21 hours of sleep a day this time of year. All natural and how it was meant to be. Sigh.

Wow, lights. (1, Informative)

SpeZek (970136) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676412)

Woop de doo, poor people in impoverished countries can now spend their entire savings purchasing the solar panels needed to light a few rooms when it's not cloudy outside.

Still doesn't change the fact that, by disallowing them to use the massive amounts of coal under their feet, we're disallowing them to build infrastructure and means of production so that they can accumulate capital. They need to be more than plain consumers to bring themselves up to our standards of living, and for that they need cheap, plentiful energy such as coal so that they can start producing wealth. They need factories, not tea lights.

Re:Wow, lights. (1)

Duradin (1261418) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676546)

Infrastructure requires stability, something that is lacking in those areas.

Re:Wow, lights. (1)

BattleWaryMushroom (1964952) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676568)

Don't you know that if we start letting everyone develop, we'll have to deal with many more conflicting governments, norms, economies, etc... Keeping the poor poor keeps everything the same. And if everything is the same, then there are the constant number of problems to worry about. Not more. Not less.

Re:Wow, that's amazingly obtuse (4, Interesting)

rbrander (73222) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676694)

...of you, to not know about the central problem of development we've been discovering since the 1960's. By the 90's, it was accepted wisdom and changes slowly began to be made, despite all the money to be made from selling them hydroelectric dams.

You see, attempting to catapult unready societies into the late industrial revolution from a 1700's-era starting point kept failing and failing and failing. Books like "The Road to Hell" by aid professional Michael Maren and "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" by John Perkins brought out how so much of that "aid" was to benefit the givers, not the receivers. Perkins was particularly damning about hydroelectric dams and power stations being built all over the world with "aid" money all those loans that went into default. It was a straightforward recipe:

(1) Bogus economic study of how the country would blossom and prosper if only they had power, a market would explode as soon as it was available, and the national or World Bank loan would be paid back in years. (Perkins' job - he goes over it in detail for Ecuador and Indonesia).
(2) Local "400 families" get extravagant cuts of the action, of course, and they approve the deal, being also the government.
(3) Dam is built, Western engineering firms do well, 400 families do well, local people are bumped off the reservoir land, sometimes at gunpoint, etc.
(4) No market actually arises, country wasn't ready after all, loan goes into default.
(5) People of country end up with higher taxes and lower services for about 40 years to pay back World Bank and IMF.

High capital investments come with high risk. You can substitute "coal-fired" for "hydroelectric" if you like, it actually makes it worse since you now have to develop TWO major plants - a coal mine and a power station - with a populace that has trouble keeping a local chlorine-drip 1-man water treatment plant running reliably.

We built up to a massively centralized economy with small numbers of very large stations and plants and factories and so forth for power and materiel production, only after more than a century of slowly scaling up from very small distributed ones. We thought we could take them straight to Big Industry, and we were wrong. And it was not an "honest mistake"; the decision to try that at all was highly affected by the profits to be made just attempting it, because others had to pay the price for the error.

Re:Wow, that's amazingly obtuse (1)

Zumbs (1241138) | more than 3 years ago | (#34677070)

Sometimes it is even worse than that. The plant may be built, but crucial infrastructure is left out, or it is built at a terrible location. The plant may not even work. All to often these "aid" schemes are little more than direct aid to engineering firms (based in an Industrialized country) and bribes to local leaders. Helping developing countries industrialize is not an easy task. First of all, it requires that the aid giver is genuinly interested in helping them industrialize (instead of, say, enriching local corperations). Second, it requires that the local government in the developing country wants the country to industrialize, and that other key groups support this drive. Improved literacy could help the people put pressure on their government to get their act together.

Re:Wow, that's amazingly obtuse (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 3 years ago | (#34677628)

I agree. The thing I find so funny is how the write up claims this trend is now "exploding".
I remember reading about small bio gas setups in India in the 80s and maybe the 70s. Small solar lights? Yes leds make that a lot more practical.

But to be honest large dams do tend to do more than just make power. They can help with seasonal flooding and with irrigation.
The can also cause other eco problems as well so they are not all sunshine and bunnies.

Another moron (2)

arcite (661011) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676824)

How are poor rural people supposed to build a coal power plant? Just like cell-phone towers are able to leap-frog technologies and provide ICT solutions to remote places, solar power provides the possibility to be independent from the government and promote sustainability.

Solar panels are also being used to sterilize drinking water, cook, and even more exciting - provide refrigeration. Many batches of vaccines in the past have gone bad because of lack of refrigeration. Refrigeration also helps to preserve food nutrition.

To quote the Mosquito Coast, "Ice is civilization"

Re:Wow, lights. (2)

Idarubicin (579475) | more than 3 years ago | (#34677302)

Still doesn't change the fact that, by disallowing them to use the massive amounts of coal under their feet, we're disallowing them to build infrastructure and means of production so that they can accumulate capital.

How does a single village build a coal-fired power plant?

How does a rural community accumulate capital if they can only accomplish tasks during daylight hours -- and then can only accomplish enough to maintain a subsistence agricultural lifestyle?

Re:Wow, lights. (2)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 3 years ago | (#34677356)

Except as others have pointed out, this yields two incredibly important things:

1. More available hours to work. This means improved education (more time to study) and increased productivity.
2. More reliable communications - the solar power system allows villagers to charge cellular telephones and radios.

These things will improve the villagers abilities to do things for themselves rather than rely on aid dollars. Education and productivity produce wealth, not coal plants built by foreigners. With education and communication will come stability, and with stability the ability to create the solid infrastructure that will be important. Unfortunately I think you're putting the cart before the horse here.

Sony/Nintendo/Microsoft (1)

Stenchwarrior (1335051) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676570)

The big tech companies should start investing in these rural electricity providers since these villages are untapped revenue for potential consumers. Just like rural America, there's money to be had in "them there hills".

Good for population control (1)

Urkki (668283) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676572)

I suspect this also will help reduce population growth, with people able to do also other things after dark. And this isn't meant just as a joke.

Also, condoms are easier to use when there's light, for that theoretical group of people who do know what they are, do have them, are actually willing to use them, but do not have enough light to put them on.

Are you a moron? (0)

arcite (661011) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676676)

good for population control because they can put condoms on better when there is light?

The only thing that reduces population is education. Those who are better educated have fewer children. Being able to study after dark increases one's odds to further their education. It's not rocket science.

You still sound like a moron though.

Re:Are you a moron? (1)

Stenchwarrior (1335051) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676868)

L

O

L

Re:Good for population control (0)

ZDRuX (1010435) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676878)

Reduce population growth by limiting the availability of basic living necessities such as electricity and power plants?

I suppose you're part of the Malthusian crowd that is suggesting we should rid of the less advantaged for some pseudo-altruistic belief that we'd be much better off if we could just have less of ourselves. I don't know what it is about people these days really having some hatred towards our own species that we would openly and willingly suggest to people that they do NOT reproduce and live out their lives how they see fit, and restrain their human nature to engage in family building.

The fact that most of the industrialized nations across the globe have a birth-rate below that what is necessary sustain a society seems to trouble no one, and is given very little discussion time. Instead, we are fed the factually wrong idea that there's an over population problem.

Anybody who has spent some time researching this problem (or non-problem) with an biased view would concur alarmists have been yelling about overpopulation for hundreds of years, and if anyone would have taken them seriously - we should have run out of food and resources countless of times by now, but somehow this hasn't happened. However, we use these false assumptions as a pretext to take away from poor people living in places like Africa and deny them the basic foundations needed to grow and sustain life in the name of saving them... it's absolutely absurd.

Everybody knows (...or should know) that you need a steady birth rate of 2.5 just to SUSTAIN society, you need more than that to GROW a society. Here's some hard facts for those who care to know:

2.15 - Africa (population falling)
0.97 - U.S.(drastically falling)
0.8 - Canada
0.56 - UK
0.53 - France
-0.06 - Germany

If you look at those numbers, it is quite clear the overall population of the planet is spiraling downwards and this will cause a possibilty of a huge crysis if this isn't brought up as a real point to discuss.

Source CIA: CIA World Facts

So don't let anyone tell you we're in trouble if we don't curb people fucking... quite the contrary, we're in serious trouble if don't have a rapid rise in population all around the globe.

Re:Good for population control (1)

ZDRuX (1010435) | more than 3 years ago | (#34676982)

I don't know why the link didn't display properly, anyway - here it is: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2002rank.html?countryCode=&rankAnchorRow=# [cia.gov]

Re:Good for population control (2)

WMD_88 (843388) | more than 3 years ago | (#34677224)

You're basically right, but you're reading the numbers wrong. Those aren't birth rate numbers you linked: it's a ratio of births to deaths. Hence why the USA at 0.97 is considered falling. But the 2.15 figure means over twice as many births as deaths. Maintaining a population requires a birth rate of around 2.1, not 2.5; either way, the industrialized world is on the wrong side of the number.

Re:Good for population control (1)

vgerclover (1186893) | more than 3 years ago | (#34677368)

Indefinitely constant grow is not only counter productive, is impossible [youtube.com] . We can start controlling growth now, or growth will stop by itself in a less flattering way for the species later.

Since they're cooking with fire, need BioLite (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34676734)

http://biolitestove.com/BioLite.html [biolitestove.com]

BioLite is a revolutionary stove that makes cooking on wood as clean, safe and easy as modern fuels while generating electricity to charge cell phones and LED lights off-grid.

Since they're already cooking with fire, might as well charge their lights/cellphones at the same time, with an improved cooking stove

In the third world, not in Africa (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34677034)

The last time I checked Mongolia is in the heart of Asia. This technology is currently benefiting select African countries as well as at least one country outside Africa according to the article.

Also this proves (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34677168)

Also this proves that security thru obscurity is INDEED a Myth!

The problem for the west is volume (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34677210)

People keep saying why is it practical for the poor and not for richer countries? Look at it this way, an average home uses several thousand kilowatts a day. They are powering a 4 watt LED. Also the story mentions an $80 solar panel powering four bulbs and recharging cell phones. That $80 might have been 10% of their annual income. Say a US family family makes 50K a year, low side of middle class. Would you run out and drop 5K on a bank of solar panels? Even though it's maybe 10% of their income it may be 200% of their disposable income or more in poorer countries. Most people can actually aford solar power to set it up it's just most want it to be cheaper because of the hassle. For the poor it's their only source of power so it's a godsend. People in the west are spoiled by easy access. Over a 30 year run you save a bundle with solar panels but people expect to pay them back too quickly. 10 years is the average I hear which for most you might as well say a 100 years. Part of the problem is people move too often. Few people live in the same house for 30 years so they'll never see the benefit. It's not the expense it's modern life that is holding back adoption of solar and alternative power sources.

Mongolia -- panels everywhere (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34677258)

In Mongolia I saw plenty of gers (Mongolian word for "yurt") with A) solar panel, B) satellite dish, C) TV and/or radio in the middle of nowhere out on the steppes. Not only that, but they also had cell phone coverage near villages of only 1000 people or so, and people used their solar panel to charge the phones.

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