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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 Anonymous Coward on Monday December 27, 2010 @11:13AM (#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.
  • Reading light (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oodaloop (1229816) on Monday December 27, 2010 @11:16AM (#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.
  • by couchslug (175151) on Monday December 27, 2010 @11:28AM (#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.

  • by Duradin (1261418) on Monday December 27, 2010 @11:30AM (#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.

  • by toppavak (943659) on Monday December 27, 2010 @11:37AM (#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.
  • by localman57 (1340533) on Monday December 27, 2010 @11:41AM (#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?
  • by Zumbs (1241138) on Monday December 27, 2010 @11:53AM (#34676478) Homepage

    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.

  • by Nadaka (224565) on Monday December 27, 2010 @12:04PM (#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.

  • by confused one (671304) on Monday December 27, 2010 @12:15PM (#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.
  • by Belial6 (794905) on Monday December 27, 2010 @03:35PM (#34678484)
    The funny thing about that is that it is a personal example of why lame arguments on Slashdot can be a good thing. When CFLs first started hitting the streets, I tried them for energy savings, and was very disappointed with some of their problems. While talking about them on Slashdot, I mentioned the mercury 'problem'. As you can imagine, there were a dozen people ready to call me an idiot because the coal plant releases more mercury than the CFL has. While they could have been more polite, a little research, and I verified that they were right. So, I learned something new, and my ego will recover from being wrong in an internet discussion.

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