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Earth Power Hardware

African Villages Glow With Renewable Energy 172

Posted by kdawson
from the don't-need-no-steenkin'-grid dept.
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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African Villages Glow With Renewable Energy

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  • by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Monday December 27, 2010 @10:24AM (#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.

  • by oodaloop (1229816) on Monday December 27, 2010 @10:33AM (#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.
  • Wow, lights. (Score:2, Informative)

    by SpeZek (970136) on Monday December 27, 2010 @10:42AM (#34676412) Journal

    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.

  • by tiq (23806) on Monday December 27, 2010 @11:22AM (#34676776) Homepage

    You can buy one at Ikea for twenty bucks, and they will give another one to Unicef.

    http://www.ikea.com/ms/en_US/about_ikea/our_responsibility/ikea_social_initiative/sunnan_lamp_campaign.html [ikea.com]

  • by jonbryce (703250) on Monday December 27, 2010 @11:35AM (#34676896) Homepage

    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:Reading light (Score:5, Informative)

    by Idarubicin (579475) <allsquiet@hotmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Monday December 27, 2010 @11:35AM (#34676900) Journal

    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.

Did you know that for the price of a 280-Z you can buy two Z-80's? -- P.J. Plauger

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