May 29, 2011

How to light up rural Africa, an E4C Humanitarian Tech webinar

City lights in this image from the Defense Meteorological Satellite System show vast dark regions in rural Africa and other developing regions. To Christopher Hopper at e.quinox, the image represents a huge need, revealing the locations of the 1.6 billion people worldwide who don’t have access to electricity. He has a plan to change that. Photo credit: NASA/US Geological Survey via Wikimedia Commons

Mini power stations, called electricity kiosks, are meeting the need for electricity in rural Rwandan homes. Three kiosks are operating now in villages where people cart breadloaf-sized batteries from their homes to the station to recharge.

The kiosks are a nascent intervention in what amounts to a humanitarian crisis. As such, they are the focus of E4C’s latest webinar, Sustainable Electrification Solutions for Developing Countries. The entire series is available free and open to the public on E4C’s YouTube channel.

Christopher Hopper highlights the past and future of these tiny power stations that he and other UK students developed through their organization, e.quinox.

The problem, Hopper explains, is huge. One in four people worldwide have no power access, according to the UN. And this solution is tiny: Three kiosks now serve about 300 households in Rwanda, a country where only about 6 percent of the population can regularly turn on the lights at home. But the kiosks are scaleable. If you can build three, you can build 30,000. And they have the power to change lives.

The lack of power stymies productivity. There’s no studying and no desk work in the dark. And kerosene lanterns, the go-to solution for off-grid lighting, is an indoor air polluter associated with lung cancer and other conditions that cut lives short. For 780 million people, their exposure to kerosene fumes is the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes per day, the UN says.

The kiosks fix those problems. People can recharge batteries that they use at home for light and to charge mobile phones, listen to radios and use other appliances.

Two of the kiosks in place now are solar powered. One is plugged into a nearby grid as an extension to reach surrounding off-grid homes. Micro-hydro generators could power future stations.

Hopper’s thorough presentation details e.quinox’s distribution and business strategies, shows how the kiosks work, and shows past and future iterations of the technologies. The lessons learned are solid recommendations for any start-up enterprise in this field.

Take a look at the webinar embedded below or on our YouTube channel. Afterward, you can register for certification of completion at IEEE.

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