Solar panels, cell phones, LED light bulbs and the third world

by David Safier

Solar_panel Small solar panels can transform third world villages.

Many areas of the world are simply off the grid. To bring them electricity, solar is far cheaper than connecting them to the grid or building power plants. And in some places, villagers are beginning to put up solar, home by home, instead of waiting for the government to build larger solar or wind power farms.

Surprisingly, one of the motivating factors is cell phones.

A NY Times article shows a woman in Kenya putting what looks like a foot-square solar panel on her roof. The impetus was to charge her cell phone — what seems like a luxury item for poor people can actually be an economic and social lifeline — which used to cost her a long, relatively expensive trip into the nearest town. Now she can do it at home, and defray some of the cost by charging neighbors' phones for a small price.

As important, she can power 4 lights in her home, because LED lights run on 4 watts rather than 60. Among other things, her children's grades in school have improved,  because they now have light to study. (Not answered is how late in the evening a solar panel can continue to supply power for light.)

The solar panel cost $80, a huge sum where the woman lives (The family sold animals to make the purchase). But she spends less on kerosene and batteries, not to mention the trip into town to charge her phone. She made back the cost in a few months.

While alternative energy sources are hotly debated here, they're a no brainer in outlying areas of the world.

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