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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 Zerth (26112) on Monday December 27, 2010 @11:07AM (#34676078) Homepage

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

    • by Amorymeltzer (1213818) on Monday December 27, 2010 @11:14AM (#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]

    • 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 jonbryce (703250)

      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.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        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.

        • by jbeaupre (752124)

          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]

          • 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
            • by BLKMGK (34057) <morejunk4me&hotmail,com> on Monday December 27, 2010 @06:30PM (#34680052) Homepage Journal

              I'm not sure I agree on your efficiency there. I have replaced 60+W incandescents with the curly CFLs that used something like 15W and am now replacing THOSE with LED that use 8W and are rated as "40W replacements". Except that they produce as much or more light than the CFL in the right fixture! In one case in particular the change in brightness was striking and a very large improvement.

              I am using the $30 Sylvania "Ultra LED" lights which are new and part of their High Performance Series. Lowes, in the US, sells these cheaper than anyone I've found BTW. In a "can" fixture in the ceiling in my bathroom they proved to light instantly as compared to the slow glow curlies and to provide MORE light. In the light fixtures on my porch however they proved too directional and created bad shadows. In my normal bathroom sconces they work awesome and in my nightstand lamp they also work great. Used in a freestanding torch sort of light they threw too sharp a shadow line as most of the light went up and not out. I have yet to find one of either CFL or LEF that can replace a single bright 100W incandescent in a ceiling fan I have. :-(

              I have begun using some other LEDs in a pendant fixture that used to use incandescent and it's working okay but not as well as the Sylvania bulbs. The LED is a much whiter\bluer light than CFL in my experience so far but they are WAY cooler and use way less juice. The cost is a bit rude but so far they seem to be holding up very well - for the price they had better.

              In any case for efficiency I'd argue on the side of LED over CFL for sure based on my experience. Perhaps if I wasn't driving them from 120v mains that wouldn't be the case and I realize that in the case of running them off of a battery they aren't using 120v. I'd still argue for LED though since they are much less fragile!

              What I'd really like to know is how well the Sylvania Ultra LED floods work. The price of admission has been too high for me to try them yet but if they work well I have several 150Watt floods I'd LOVE to dump! These are on motion sensors and swapping them so high in the air would be a chore but the overall cost savings long term might be worth it if someone could vouch that they don't suck :-)

          • by BergZ (1680594)
            As soon as my current fleet of CFLs burn out I plan to replace them with LEDs because of the lower Mercury content.
            • by rjstanford (69735)

              Never hurts, but do keep in mind when discussing mercury that simply smashing the CFLs upon EOL (not recommended btw) releases less mercury than would be released by a coal-fired powerplant powering incandescent lights over the same time period. Just something to think about - a lot of people really bring the hate to CFLs over that concern.

              • 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.
      • by N Monkey (313423)

        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.

      • 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.
        • The real reason poverty is so rampant in Africa, however, is not the lack of after-sundown lighting, it's the rampant corruption, preventing anything worthwhile from getting done without copious bribes to numerous officials and people of 'importance'.

          Extending education time is laudable, but without addressing the foremost cause of the retardation of development, it's not going to make that big a difference whilst corruption is so widespread and entrenched.

      • 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 don't know what a yurt is, but I'm guessing it doesn't have a bathroom.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by tiq (23806)

      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 BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Monday December 27, 2010 @11:08AM (#34676088)

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

  • by Anonymous Coward
    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.
    • 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.

      • Yeah, and that happes when power outages occur. I light a few candles and can see plenty well.
        The problem is the food in the freezer possibly going off, and that I can't work on my laptop if the batteries are flat.

        So yes, "There's more to electricity than lighting".
    • 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.

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

      • by CODiNE (27417)

        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.

      • Or any number of other kinds of mini-computers. Smartphones are becoming very popular in Sub Saharan africa.
    • by jonbryce (703250)

      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.

      • RTFA is a crime on Slashdot :P

        Reminds me of the "No-Kero"(sene) initiative, for providing solar-powered lamps to poor homes. While it doesn't provide an option to charge your cellphones, it does help eliminate Kerosene-related problems. Also, they are in a single handy, sturdy package, unlike the rather complex solar setup described in the article. They have been installed in places like Kenya and donated to the flood-affected areas of Pakistan.

        The current problem is how to mass produce these to avail econo

    • 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 afidel (530433)
        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.
      • by Abcd1234 (188840)

        But... but... didn't you know? The only barrier to affluence in Africa is the tragic dearth of blenders and powersaws! Every day, you hear it in the villages and in the countryside, the yearning for a Black and Decker...

    • by nospam007 (722110) *

      "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.

      • by minchazo (1548055)

        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.

        Wait, wait... They burn toddlers in Kenya for fuel? Man that's harsh :(

    • by Peeteriz (821290)

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

  • 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 feepness (543479) on Monday December 27, 2010 @11:34AM (#34676298) Homepage

      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?

      • by oodaloop (1229816)
        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/
      • Or just burn a book to light the room. Oh, wait...
      • by couchslug (175151)

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

        We'll call that comment the "Marie Antoinette response".

  • I don't know why but this link bypasses the paywall: click [nytimes.com].
  • Wow, lights. (Score:2, Informative)

    by SpeZek (970136)

    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, p

    • by Duradin (1261418)

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

    • by rbrander (73222) on Monday December 27, 2010 @12:15PM (#34676694) Homepage

      ...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.

      • by Zumbs (1241138)
        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
      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        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.

        • by rbrander (73222)

          Your "exploding' in the 70's and 80's was like the "explosive growth" of Apple II computer sales, into the hundreds of thousands, then, gasp Millions, at the same time. The exponential was slower for this than computers, though. We are now up to the start of the "explosive" growth of the IBM PC DOS era when the cheap clones hit, mid-80's. Still to come: the "explosive" growth after Win95 and the Internet made everybody get one. I'm predicting that for post-2015 when the LED's have really dropped in pr

          • by LWATCDR (28044)

            But biogas systems have not changed in a very long time. The pick up on these really seems to be too slow and I would love to know the reason why.
            Solar plus LEDs make perfect sense but biogas?
            Heck a BBC sitcom from from the 70s involved a couple with a biogas powered generator in the basment!
            I think it was called the Goode Life.
            And community hydropower dates back to the local mills all over New England and I believe England.

            • by rbrander (73222)

              I think some of that comes down to "zero maintenance" vs "any maintenance". Not a knock on the customers overseas; customers here run their appliances into the ground all the time, if they are "any maintenance".

    • 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

    • 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?

    • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

      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 educatio

    • And I'm sure that people like you will be more than happy to exploit these people and their children in order to work in your factories until they die from the pollution.
    • 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.

      Bad idea for some obvious reasons and some not so obvious reasons, such as:
      - To maintain infrastructure, you need social stability and other supporting infrastructure.
      - To make use of infrastructure, you need a society ready to take advantage of that infrastructure.
      - Various climate reasons
      - Big business vs. little people. In less developed regions, the small people usually have very little say. This is the little people empowering themselves.

      They need factories, not tea lights.

      I'm not so sure about that. For the moment, cheap tea ligh

  • 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".
  • 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.

  • “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."

    Much like wireless "leapfrogged" the need for a heavy infrastructure.

    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.

    Microloans.

  • " 'mini' hydroelectric dams that can harness the power of a local river for an entire village"

    These 'mini' hydroelectric dams can destroy an entire migrating fish fauna because of the power for a village. The migrating fish tend to be the staple food for the neighboring villagers, too...

    America and Europe have long since understood the , but can afford building fish ladders.

    Not to speak of all the stagnant water, which harbor bilharzia and malaria. Don't forget the rotten acidic waters it produces which ero

  • Why is this a big deal? I have seen a few posts here that don't understand this, that don't understand why someone has to use up DAYS of time to charge a phone, why kerosene isn't good enough etc. The best was the guy who thinks solar is crap because his big dollar system only runs a few lights, a TV, computer, and bummer can't run the stove. Seriously?!

    READ THIS! -> http://www.expeditionportal.com/forum/showthread.php?t=50799 [expeditionportal.com]

    ^^ That's a damn good story about a couple who took a trip through The Democrat

  • I just bought a 4-pack of BR30 form factor 65W light equivalent, 15W power consumption CFL bulbs to replace 75W halogen floods. Yeah they take a minute or so to ramp to full light output and they're not dim-able (no dimmer on this circuit). Their total price was $4.80, which included an energy company instant rebate. The light is nice and soft, the 4 of them take less power than just 1 of the previous bulbs, these lights are typically left on for a minimum of 15 minutes up to a couple of hours at a time, I
  • by b4upoo (166390) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @12:55AM (#34683004)

    Sometimes the poorest of the poor lead the way. Adoption of efficient lighting methods reminds me of the tendency of slum dwellers to recycle every item almost endlessly. One pair of pants may be used by three kids growing up. No beer can is safe in the trash from the poor scavenging for aluminum. Folks who are better off lack motivation.

Someone is unenthusiastic about your work.

Working...