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Clean Power simple-pedal-power-set-up

Published on January 19th, 2014 | by Important Media Cross-Post

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An Open Source Pedal-Powered Generator

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January 19th, 2014 by  

Originally published on Sustainablog

simple pedal power set-up

Building a simple pedal-powered generator isn’t that difficult – we got one (kind of like the one above) going on the fly nearly four years ago at the last blogathon up at Dancing Rabbit.  It didn’t really generate enough power reliably to help us, though – that takes a bit more engineering. If you want to run your laptop, or a blender, or a log splitter (seriously), you need something like Pedal Power‘s Big Rig… which is the product of five years of engineering and testing.

Don’t have that kind of time or inclination? No problem: the Big Rig and other creations from this small company will soon be available as open source plans. A wildly successful Kickstarter project has provided the funding for developing the build plans and instructions, and, judging from the time frame mentioned at the Kickstarter page, you could see them on the market as early as next month.

Want to know more? Check out this post from our sister site Planetsave:

Pedal Power — Simple Human-Powered Means Of Generating Electricity

By: Nathan

If you’ve ever thought that you’d like to own an electricity generating bicycle, well, guess what, now you can. Pedal Power — as the concept has been dubbed — will give consumers the means to create electricity using nothing but their own muscle, via one of two newly designed machines — the Big Rig, and the Pedal Genny.

The machines — developed over the past five years by a pair of entrepreneurs from upstate New York — were recently the subject of a very successful KickStarter campaign — completely blowing past it’s goal. The developers are currently in the process of creating open-source plans for the machines.

The Atlantic provides more:

Pedal Power is a tiny start-up (two guys) based in Essex, New York. A few weeks ago, photos of their bike machine spread widely across the Internet. “With an efficiency of 97 percent, bicycle technology is nearly perfect,” they wrote in their pitch. “So why do we use it only for transportation?”

Or, even more wastefully, for spin classes or SoulCycle. That is kinetic energy just floating up into ether and steam and sweaty song. It’s like pouring crude oil down the drain. The Internet agreed. Last week their Kickstarter campaign reached its $10,000 goal. Today it’s over $30,000. This week they begin work on open-source plans; the stated goal of the crowd-funded project.

“I would love to see Pedal Power machines in every coffee shop in every city in the country,” co-founder Steve Blood stated in an interview. “So that people who are working on their laptops, working on their iPads, are at the same time generating their own power for those devices. I want to connect people to the energy they use. I want people to understand how precious energy is, and how hard it is to come by.”

You can learn more about the technology in the video posted below.

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  • CaptD

    I’d like to suggest that the builders consider making a connector available so that owners of these can also adapt them to work with external non-human power from any number of sources via a long flexible shaft. This would allow the generator to remain in use when humans are not able to power it, say at night when it could be powered by a small wind generator and or a water powered rotating wheel.

  • tropicalday88

    A famous Einstein quote to ponder when attempting to throw cold water on the tinder box of innovation.
    “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
    The majority of americans could certainly benefit from a little exercise while simply charging a few of their mobile devices.

    I do not believe the intent of the inventors is to replace your connection to the grid. A few seem to put an exhaustive effort in devaluing every effort one puts in towards a basic reality. Our past use, misuse, and waste of fossil fuels to generate electricity is unsustainable.

    I doubt three years has past since a few “well informed” individuals claimed fuel cells for automotive use should be abandoned based on claims that the material cost would be hurdle that science could not conquer for the next twenty to thirty years. I’m sure you must be shocked to learn that Toyota must of missed your well informed sources material.

    On the verge of type 2 diabetes? You can beat this disease while charging your own battery as well as a few lying around the house.

    • Peter Gray

      Einstein would also tell you that no technological innovation is going to let us violate the laws of thermodynamics.

      I’m all for Americans getting more exercise, and if they want to spend money on a machine that charges their phone at the same time, I’d be the last to complain. But do you really believe many of those unhealthy folks are that way because they lack a device that could save them a few pennies per day? Or could it be that they simply choose not to exercise, no matter what the technology?

      Assuming I’m one of those few you see as putting “an exhaustive effort in devaluing every effort one puts in towards a basic reality,” whatever that means; you’re simply wrong. I’ve worked in energy and enviro fields for many years, as well as on the effort to end nuclear weapons production, and now I’m in advanced biofuels research. I pay attention to this site because I find a lot of good info here, and I want to help educate others.
      It’s true that I often take a debunking role in the comment forums, but not because I want to undermine good efforts or be a pain in the ass – it’s because, frankly, a great deal of pure bunk shows up here. Some of it is just silly, and some is harmful if it leads people to waste effort or money on false hopes. Some extreme examples include hyping the latest “aerocar” inventions, which are a deadend idea no matter how you slice it.
      The fact that articles about pedal generators even appear on this site amounts to an implied endorsement of them as an energy/enviro solution. I’m arguing first that there is _no_way_ these devices can contribute more than a microscopic fraction of the energy we use, and further, it’s not at all clear that in actual use they would recover the energy that went into their own production. So it’s highly dubious that they deserve to be called Green. If a few people want to buy some to charge their phones, fine, but let’s not be under any illusions that they’re contributing anything noticeable environmentally.
      When you bring in diabetes, you’re kind of going off the rails here. Nobody suggested that people should get less exercise. That kind of discussion belongs on a preventive health site, along with the generator bike iself. It’s just another (more expensive) exercise machine, not an example of any new technology. Mechanical generators have been very efficient for many decades, so there’s almost no room to improve on them. There’s nothing new or important to see here, so why are we even talking about it?
      Re abandonment of fuel cells, can you cite someone, or are you just making it up? I’m sure we could cherry-pick some wrong predictions recently, assuming Toyota’s car is successful – and I hope it will be.
      But you might want to take a longer view. Fuel cells were invented in 1838 (yes, 18, not 19), and for at least a century there have been countless predictions that they would become cheap, reliable, and commercially available within the next decade or so. It hasn’t happened because it turns out to be a tough nut to crack, not because of some pessimists’ conspiracy. But after such a long history of unfulfilled promises, it’s no surprise that some actual well-inforned people became a little skeptical. Who can blame them?

  • dcard88

    The coffee shop idea is silly, but the spin classes should all be set up or converted.

    • Peter Gray

      No, they should not. See my long-winded comment above.

      • dcard88

        Your comment didn’t make the cut and I cant imagine how you could say no. Wires can go under the flooring and 20 or 30 people x 15 or 20 classes a week pushing pedals would pay for the bike modifications in less than a year at $.25 per kwh

        • Peter Gray

          Okay, let’s assume 20 hr/wk at 150 watts, a _very_ high sustained output even for a strong athlete. $0.25/kwh is rather high, but let’s go with that, along with 100% efficiency. We get 1,040 hr/yr, or 156 kwh, worth $39 at a high-end _retail_ price, not the price the utility would pay for it. How can you do a bike conversion for less than $40? Or even less than 10 times that, once we account for utility-qualified inverters?

          Wires under the flooring is the very least of the show-stopping issues. The basic problem won’t be solved by any kind of technology: humans cannot produce much physical work. That’s why people domesticated horses and oxen millennia ago. But even draft animals haven’t been serious generator candidates since electricity was invented.

          • dcard88

            OK, lets assume 100 watts per hour. the $.25 is less than many southern Californians pay but lets assume 50 weeks times 20 hours per week. $25 per year times likely inverter function of 10 years minimum. So $250 per bike conversion. the motor costs $100 and the inverter cost about $50. Keeping in mind you need only one 3 kW inverter per 30 bikes or that a 150 watt inverter cost about $50. Easily doable. Not much reason to do for just the money, but you also get to reduce total consumption of electricity at gyms that use a lot. There is also the option of using to run some sort of DC equipment.

          • Peter Gray

            I don’t know where you’re getting your prices. $50 for a 150W _grid_tie_ inverter? I don’t think so. I see a going price of $3k for 3kW inverters, which is 3 times the $/watt. If $50/150W inverters were available, people would buy 20 of them, line them up, and save $2k compared to one $3k/3kW unit.

            Spread over 30 bikes, $100 each doesn’t sound too bad. But a compatible, durable generator for $100 sounds more than optimistic. You’re also assuming full utilization of all the bikes, and even 100W is probably way high – have you ever tried producing that much for a solid hour?

            Not to be facetious, but if it’s not worth doing for the money, why is it worth doing, if the same investment elsewhere gets better energy returns? And we don’t get double credit for reducing the utility bill _and_ cutting consumption at the gym. It’s one or the other, isn’t it?

            Picky point: “100 watts per hour” is a meaningless unit. If you mean 100 watt-hours per hour, you might as well just say 100 watts.

          • dcard88

            100 watts per hour equals exactly 100 watt hours. Aren’t we talking specifics? How could 100watts in an hour class be misinterpreted? Maybe you meant I was assuming an hour class, which is the case. Also, 3kw grid tie inverters are available for between 1200 and $1500, 300 watt inverters can easily be found for $150. Actually you would only need a 2kw inverter for the average 20 cyclist in a class. You could also just use the bikes to charge batteries, but don’t know if that would be a good use. I have no problem spending my money to slow the release of fossil fuels. Not to be facetious, but why would you even ask that question? Are you suggesting no one who pays $100K for a Tesla or $26K for a Prius cares about anything but the money for fuel? You would be 100% wrong if you do. What does “reducing the energy AND cutting consumption” mean and why did you bring it up anyway? Also the generator/motor is easily had for around $100 form several sources. This is also interesting: http://www.instructables.com/id/Stationary-Bike-Generator-from-Washing-Machine/

          • Peter Gray

            Not trying to be pedantic, but in common language that uses any math, “per” means “divided by,” not “multiplied by,” which is how you used it. “Per” typically signifies a rate, which is intimately associated with a ratio. So kilometers per hour is calculated by dividing distance by time. A watt is already a rate, as you might know: 1 joule of energy per second. 100 watts per hour would be 0.028 joules per second-squared. That might be useful for something, but I don’t know what.
            What I’m sure you meant to say was “100 watts for an hour,” or “times an hour,” which obviously yields 100kWh of electricity. When you don’t state these things clearly, or get them upside-down, you make it too easy for someone else to conclude that you don’t know what you’re talking about on anything else.
            You might very well know more than I do about the cost of inverters and generators. I quickly looked up a few prices, and I saw 3kW priced at $3k. If something just as good is out there for $1,200, it’s hard to imagine why something 2.5x more pricey would stay on the market.
            I’m close to being persuaded that in certain special cases, under the most generous assumptions, one might break even on the cost of a human-powered generator, including the critical assumption that all the pedalers would have done the exercise anyway, and wasted it all as heat. If you have to pay people, with food, to do the work, then surely the net enviro effect would be negative.
            I stand by my point, which is that no matter what, human electric generation can never be more than a tiny, trivial contributor. “Less than 1%” is with everyone on the planet pedaling a very strong 1-hour daily workout. But we need to drop some people from the pool: children, most old folks, everyone at a subsistence level or who does manual labor for a living (that could be most of the world right there), and not least, everyone in the remaining fraction who simply doesn’t care to do daily aerobic exercise. After all that, we’d be lucky to generate between 0.01% and 0.1% of demand – and that’s before we net out the energy consumed in making the equipment. Batteries? Really?
            I’m sure many people buy Teslas and Priuses in part to make a contribution, and I’m glad they do, mainly because they might help better tech get established. But there’s no such argument about pedal generators; no technology that can possibly make it a noticeably better energy source than it has been for the past century.
            I’ve been an energy/environmental economist for many years, currently working on advanced biofuels, and I co-wrote a paper on climate policy a few years ago, so I kinda get it about this stuff.
            You can point out that every little bit helps, but I still say it’s not worth the trouble or the distraction. And there’s a real risk that people will pedal the generator now and then, and figure they’ve done their part. We see that already with recycling, not to mention Prius driving (I have friends who feel rather proud of their Prius, and then they fly to Europe every summer for vacation, undoing all their personal conservation and more).
            It’s nice you spend your money to reduce carbon, but I hope you understand that individual voluntary conservation efforts simply will not make a measurable difference in the outcome. Instead of money, I’d rather see you spend time to get well educated about that, and then get active politically. I highly recommend the accessible, realistic, beautifully written The Climate Casino, by Wm. Nordhaus, 2013.

          • doug card

            Excellent response. You probably know more about most of this than I do, but this is pretty much how I learn since a formal educated didn’t work for me. I do agree with most of what you say.

          • Peter Gray

            Thanks, Doug! I was a little worried I might have come across as too harsh, so I’m glad you didn’t take offense. I have an extensive formal education, though hardly a consistent one, and a lot more education outside school. I admire that you’re coming to sites like this to learn! Keep at it.

            I really do think you should read The Climate Casino. I wish everyone would. It’s the best single book on the topic I know of so far, and I’m sure a lot of what you’ll learn from it will surprise you. Let me know if you get into it a ways and have questions or want to discuss it. You can contact me: peter underscore gray at wsu dot edu. I’ll be glad to send you the non-technical paper I mentioned, if you’re interested. We have pretty much the same take on it as Nordhaus, but he extended it much further.

          • Peter Gray

            Doug,
            I neglected to answer about your “reducing the energy AND cutting consumption” question. First, I did not write what you quote, which is a nonsensical “reduce A and reduce A” proposition. I said “reducing the utility bill _and_ cutting consumption,” which is a whole ‘nother thing. What I mean is that if the gym sells the power to reduce its utility bills and pay off the pedal-gens, it can’t use the same power to run its lights and computers. That kind of double counting is what you seemed to imply with ” Not much reason to do for just the money, but you also get to reduce total consumption of electricity at gyms that use a lot.”

          • dcard88

            Had to reread my earlier post. Meant that you can feel good about not using as well as possibly saving money. You don’t actually save both ways, just get to feel good about reducing. Much better than not getting a restaurant meal. You only get to save the extra money. BUT you still have to eat. Another example – you get to feel good about saving gasoline if you buy a hybrid, but most don’t quite save you any money since you have to pay extra for the vehicle up front. The power producing bike or solar PV on the roof would do both…hopefully. :)

  • Justin Barkewich

    Sounds like a good workout machine to put some electrons back into an EV,even if its at a trickle charge.

    • Ronald Brakels

      Or, you could ride a bicycle. That would also be an option.

      • Peter Gray

        Yes, and a much better one. The best idea I see in the story is “I want people to understand how precious energy is, and how hard it is to come by.” The rest is a bit misleading. By some measures a bicycle is very efficient, but the human engine is shockingly weak.

        A while back, I estimated how long a very strong, fit person, working 40 hours/week, 52 wk/yr of extremely hard labor, would take to produce the work content (not energy, just the extractable work part) of a 55-gallon drum of diesel, currently retailing for ~$220 in the US. The answer: about seven years.

        Given that, the payback time for the energy that went into producing a pedal generator, used occasionally in a coffee shop or at home, or even frequently in a gym, is likely to be measured in decades. Possibly centuries if you account for how much real humans _actually_use_ the exercise gear they buy now.

        Human power is simply not going to be a significant contributor to current or likely future energy consumption. For another pedal-generator story on cleantechnica a couple months ago, I calculated total output assuming every person on the planet pedaled for 1 hour/day at a good workout level. I got less than 1% of electricity, and that assumes every baby, grannie, and exhausted manual laborer puts out a full 75 watts for an hour every day of the year. Oh, and all the equipment and interconnections are 100% efficient.

        Putting good money into this when you could put it into PV panels, house insulation, bike lanes, public transit, or campaigns for rational carbon policies instead, would be a total waste.

        • Sjefssynseren

          Hi Peter.

          I believe the missing link in your argument is called “appropriate technology.”

          Human energy is not supposed to directly replace fossil fuels for every application. Hence, the calculation of the grand totals is a misrepresentation of what potential this holds/does not hold. It’s the same thing as saying “solar will never work in the north of Norway” – an obviously correct statement, due to the fact the sun never raises above the horizon for the winter months of each year. But in Aizona, Louisiana, Texas, Florida, Italy, Spain Greece and other developed countries in areas with high amounts of sunshine throughout the year, it is very much a viable solution (even if costs are still prohibitively high for a large-scale investments to be made – although, look at the Arawa solar plant in Israel – it is slowly happening).

          Likewise, solar solutions are less viable in many African countries, where the problem is not replacing fossil fuel based electricity with renewable electricity, but rather providing electricity for the first time. In these places, the cost of solar are again prohibitively high, although here we are not talking about major solar power plants, but rather small task lights. As a matter of fact, history shows that even where large scale plants were erected and electricity was available for purchase, large parts of the population, in east African countries like Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia etc.did and does not have the funds available for even a $20 investment in a solar- lantern. Here, increasingly , pedal-powered solutions are making their impact, as the technology needed to power a light by pedaling is much cheaper than the cost of a PV-panel, even a tiny one.

          So again, it’s a question of using the appropriate technology in each context, not about “which technology is better.” If we are to solve the electricity shortage problem by 2030, as the UN are suggesting, there is going to have to be applied a mix of user-technologies, distribution systems and generation technologies. Pedal-power certainly seems to have an important role to play in that mix – but not by forcing grandma’s and babies onto the bike seat.

          Have a nice day mister!

          • A Real Libertarian

            Solar is dirt cheap for peaking power, which it’s used for.

            It’s also very affordable for Africa, due to the competition being diesel generators.

          • Sjefssynseren

            Affordable for Africa at a large scale, sure, but when the non-existent market is comprised by people living on less than two dollars per day, connection costs are prohibitively high. The latest case is from Ethiopia, where the utilities offer connection at below cost, and as such are undermining their own profitability. In, for example, South Africa or Morocco I couldn’t agree more, but it demands a population with the financial means to back up their demand for electricity with purchasing power.

          • A Real Libertarian

            “connection costs are prohibitively high.”

            What connection costs?

            Stick it on your roof and put the bulbs inside. You’re done.

          • Sjefssynseren

            “Stick it on your roof and put the bulbs inside. You’re done.”

            This isn’t exactly the way it works in developing, African countries, my friend.

            Solar Home Systems are far beyond the financial reach of most of the population in developing countries. Implementation costs, then, if that term works better, make such systems unattainable for most people – people who live from hand to mouth at incomes below the poverty line without the financial room for maneuver to save up several hundred, if not thousands of dollars, depending on the needs and implementation strategy.

            I guess the only way this is currently being bypassed is through provision of micro loans. If you feel strongly about this issue, check out kiva.org for a great platform where YOU can provide people with access to credit that enables them to afford such technologies. That surely is an effective way to replace the fossil fuels they currently consume for lighting and cooking etc.

          • A Real Libertarian

            “This isn’t exactly the way it works in developing, African countries, my friend.”

            Yes it is.

            “Solar Home Systems are far beyond the financial reach of most of the population in developing countries. Implementation costs, then, if that term works better, make such systems unattainable for most people – people who live from hand to mouth at incomes below the poverty line without the financial room for maneuver to save up several hundred, if not thousands of dollars, depending on the needs and implementation strategy.”

            $20.

            You see it’s this whole “perfect or nothing” mindset that keeps the third-world poor.

            You don’t go from kerosene lantern to dishwasher, air-conditioning and laundry machines in one jump.

            First you knock off the costs of fuel with a solar lamp that can charge your cellphone, then you move on from there.

            If you’ve ever wondered why “western solutions” get such a bad rap, that’s why.

          • Sjefssynseren

            “You don’t go from Kerosene lantern… first you knock off costs of fuel with a solar lamp…”

            Sure, a sound argument – also an approach that has been tried, tested and failed to promote electrification at a large scale, due to the relatively high costs of solar.

            If you read my reply to Peter, you’ll see that what I am advocating is the exact same approach, but with a technology that has a lower price point. A lower price point means wider dissemination. It might sound ridiculous to you that people can’t afford $20 USD for a lamp that you know will easily “pay for itself” in kerosene savings, but over here that’s a small fortune, and puts the technology out of reach for a large of the customer segment currently without access to electricity.

            When solar lamps can be sold at 5-6 USD, then your approach will work even among the poorest of the poor. If the price remains the same, then wider dissemination will be contingent on economic growth increasing the purchasing power of many of the poor – but what we know is that there will “always” be those subsisting on less than that.

            When there are pedal-powered LED lights already available at a lower price point, they can bridge the gap, so to speak, until solar becomes cheaper in a certain customer location or certain customers increase their purchasing power. That is a better approach than fighting the stats and science that tells us solar is still too expensive. Pedal power is an appropriate solution in the interim for specific customer segments, not the long run.

          • Peter Gray

            Sorry, I still don’t get how a generator + pedaling frame + chains, gearing, etc. + storage battery + LED lights can total something like 10 USD, delivered to a remote village in Africa. Where do you get that kind of number? Can you show us an actual manufactured example, not just someone’s pipedream?
            For starters, surely the transport costs for such a system would be much higher than for the equivalent micro solar system. And that’s before we get into the problem of someone in a household, already on the edge of starvation, having to put in an extra hour or more of hard labor every day.

          • Sjefssynseren

            I thought i did, but i see the “post” did not get posted. In short – nuruenergy.com

            It’s working in India and several east African countries.

            They key is in the distribution system – you provide the generator to one person through use of micro finance loans, (typically paid back in 6 months, according to their website) and then employ that person to charge lights for the customers in the local community, who purchase the lights at an upfront cost of approx. 6 USD. One charge is 0.20 USD (again approximately) which leaves the charging-person with a better daily salary than the average as he can charge a number of lights at the time, and a load in a days work, removing the need to have additional employment.
            A charge also lasts for 7-10 days of actual use (this is a task light, not a ceiling lamp that stays on for hours on end in empty rooms) While customers reduce their spending on energy they are enabled to ave up money for additional lights or other thing to improve their livelihood and living conditions – over time, i hope, enough to purchase improved cooking stoves and further decrease the use of fossil fuels such as charcoal, perhaps through a solar home system or a solar cooking stove, like the Wilson-stove.

            As the company’s activities also replace considerable amounts of kerosene-caused GHG-emissions, they have successfully entered the carbon credit market through a deal with bank of america.

            It all seems so simple when you first think about it – but then “appropriate” is the word that lingers in my mind… It holds the potential to start a good cycle and positive development, provided information is available to the consumer that ideally gets better financial terms. If its wasted, then you’re not that much better off… But you can’t force peoples choices – however you can provide the opportunity to make good choices. And I feel that their company is really doing just that.

            Not a pipe dream – but real world progress, customized to the specific context of implementation!

          • Peter Gray

            Thanks for your patience with us, Sjefssynseren.

            I’m no expert, though I’ve taken some excellent PhD courses on International Development and Intl Trade. In the past couple years, I also read two excellent books that helped me understand the long-standing puzzle of development – actually, the lack of it. The first is Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, by Acemoglu and Robinson. They make a compelling case for how political and economic institutions explain why some nations get stuck in a cycle of poverty. Your mention of inclusive development brought this to mind, because they show how institutions can be inclusive or extractive, and how extremely difficult it is to get rid of bad institutions once they take over. It’s a fascinating book.

            A Real Libertarian: this would be valuable reading for you, too, esp. if, as your comment name implies, you have the notion that all we need to do is get government out of the way, and free markets will solve everything. To put it mildly, reality is not that simple.

            The other, related book is Scarcity: How Having Too Little Means So Much, by Mullainathan and Shafir. On a more micro level, it’s a wonderful, very readable explanation of among other things, the debt cycle phenomenon you mentioned, that wealthy westerners find so mystifying. They include some great examples from India that you’re sure to appreciate. From an angle complementary to WNF, they show how poor people fall into seemingly incompehensible traps of short-term thinking, extremely high interest rates, and so on. Hint: it’s not because poor people are more stupid, or that it only happens to illiterates. Look at the proliferation of payday loan outlets on every mid-to-low-income U.S. street corner for evidence of that.

          • A Real Libertarian

            “From an angle complementary to WNF, they show how poor people fall into seemingly incompehensible traps of short-term thinking, extremely high interest rates, and so on.”

            It’s because the long-run is only valuable if you are alive at that point and any better alternatives have been taken off the table.

            (Goddam CIA, IMF, World Bank.)

          • Peter Gray

            Do you seriously believe millions of Americans take out payday loans because they doubt they’ll live beyond next week otherwise? I think the reality is more complicated and more interesting.
            I’m skeptical at best of the CIA, and the IMF and World Bank have made plenty of mistakes, but it’s hard to hold them completely accountable for poverty traps that were set long before any of those agencies existed.

          • A Real Libertarian

            “Do you seriously believe millions of Americans take out payday loans
            because they doubt they’ll live beyond next week otherwise? I think the
            reality is more complicated and more interesting.”

            Well $10 interest on a payday loan vs. $50 to get the gas line reconnected…

            But I meant the Third World.

            “I’m skeptical at best of the CIA, and the IMF and World Bank have made plenty of mistakes, but it’s hard to hold them completely accountable for poverty traps that were set long before any of those agencies existed.”

            What poverty traps are those?

          • Peter Gray

            <>

            Look around you, at the thousands of payday loan outlets across the country. Then check out the CEO’s mansions, yachts, and dude ranches (start here: http://www.seattledebtlaw.com/2010/05/i-am-elmer-j-fudd-millionaire-i-own-a-mansion-and-a-yacht/).
            You think the $billions to support all that came from the guy who took a
            one-time loan to fix his gas line and then got out in two weeks? Not a chance.
            The real money comes from the hundreds of thousands who get stuck in the scam loop,
            racking up $thousands at 200% interest. They all have a job; none are near
            starvation. Some are driven to suicide, but that’s an end result, not a starting
            motivation.

            <>

            I know you did. So
            did I. I brought up the payday loans to disprove your hypothesis that the
            primary reason for the shortsighted behavior we were discussing is death staring
            people in the face. It’s a false stereotype that all or most people in
            developing world poverty traps are on the verge of starving. Many millions of
            them are poor, but not desperately poor.

            Before I read
            Scarcity, I knew a little about the payday loan scam, but as you probably do, I
            assumed people only fell for it because they’re stupider than the rest of us (or
            in the developing-world equivalent, illiterate). It’s not true! Read the book;
            I promise you’ll enjoy it.

            <>

            There’s a huge multi-decade literature that I can’t begin to
            cover here. If you’re interested, put “poverty trap” into Google Scholar.
            Better yet, read Why Nations Fail, the best book I know of on the topic, and I _highly_
            recommend. It’s a longer read then Scarcity, but it gives you a new way of
            understanding history as well as the current situation, and it’s full of
            fascinating case studies from around the world. Stories from some of the former
            Soviet republics are unforgettable.

            To summarize, the authors look at where the economic and
            political institutions of nations fall on a scale from inclusive to extractive.
            The most inclusive country on both dimensions would have a healthy democracy
            and a properly regulated free market. The most extractive combination is an
            absolute dictatorship with slavery. Ever heard of North Korea? There can be all
            kinds of combinations – the antebellum US South was inclusive politically for
            its time (except for the slaves and women), but extractive economically. China
            now combines a quasi-totalitarian oligarchy with a poorly regulated quasi-free market.
            The book also shows why inclusive/extractiveness tend to go together on both
            dimensions, but not always.

            When you think about it, it’s not surprising the authors
            find (through the data, not just making it up) that the most inclusive
            countries have the highest per-capita wealth and happiness. Scandinavian
            countries are now at the top of the list, followed by the US, Japan, Western
            Europe, and so on. The most extractive countries are the poorest overall, but a
            few people at the top, who extract most of the remaining wealth, can be quite
            rich. Again, North Korea. And Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Zimbabwe…

            The really interesting part comes when you start to
            understand why extractive institutions are so hard to get rid of once they take
            hold.

          • A Real Libertarian

            “I brought up the payday loans to disprove your hypothesis that the primary reason for the shortsighted behavior we were discussing is death staring people in the face. It’s a false stereotype that all or most people in developing world poverty traps are on the verge of starving. Many millions of them are poor, but not desperately poor.

            Before I read Scarcity, I knew a little about the payday loan scam, but as you probably do, I assumed people only fell for it because they’re stupider than the rest of us (or in the developing-world equivalent, illiterate). It’s not true! Read the book; I promise you’ll enjoy it.”

            http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-things-nobody-tells-you-about-being-poor/

            Number 4.

          • Peter Gray

            Ah, now I get what you’re talking about, and no, that post didn’t come through earlier. I think what you’re referring to is not so much a distribution problem as it is a capital utilization problem. In the scenario Doug (above) and I argued over, the pedal-gen would be used an hour or two per day, 3 h/d at most. Even with “free” work input, I doubt it could pay for itself. Now, if someone were paid to pedal for 8 or 10 h/d, it might start to make economic sense. Kind of. Maybe.

            A few thoughts:

            1) I’m skeptical about net enviro gains, because mammals, esp. those at the top of the food chain, are inefficient converters of sunlight into nutrients, and presumably into useful work. Beef is a pretty bad deal resource-wise, and I suspect human electric systems would be, too. To put it another way, this guy furiously pedaling all day will need a good bit of extra food, and he won’t get any farm work done.

            2) At the optimistic end, our pedaler will be able to crank out 1 kwh/day. The highest U.S. retail prices are ~$0.25/kwh; maybe up to $0.50 in Europe. If the kerosene/diesel alternative in Africa costs $1/kwh, that’s our pedaler’s maximum daily wage – before making payments on his generator loan or buying the extra food he’ll need. In some places that might still net to a decent wage, but it’s not a lot to work with in terms of climbing out of poverty. But better than nothing, maybe.

            3) Even if a charge lasts 7-10 days, all the coordination and carrying batteries back and forth seems like an awful lot of wasted time and effort. This cost should not be ignored.

            4) Like you, I don’t see this as anything like a long-term energy solution. Optimistically, it might serve as a bootstrapping mechanism. Our pedaler will have a lot of time and plenty of motivation, to think of ways to improve his lot. If I were him and I could somehow set aside a bit of my daily $1, I’d be looking for some way to replace myself – soon. I commute by bicycle, I’m athletic, and I’m not averse to physical work, but cranking away in one place 60-70 hr/week in the African heat? Uh-uh. I’d try to scrape together the down payment for a 80-100-watt PV panel, that would replace my pedaling and let me do some other kind of work as well. Maybe sell the pedal-gen to another entrepreneur in the next village?

            5) But if that scheme works, why not cut out the pedal-gen middleman and go straight to solar? As you suggest, even if the pedal-gen is cheaper than a 80-watt PV panel, it’s out of reach for our poor African. So he must finance it in either case. But here’s the thing: financing a PV panel should be much cheaper than for the pedal-gen per $ of loan, for at least a couple of reasons:

            a) Once he commits to it, Mr. Pedal must live on the net income from pedaling – so to bring the payments down to a survivable level, he’ll have to finance over a longer term and pay more total interest. But Mr. Solar can keep his day job, and instead of needing to gross $1/day no matter what, he’s happy to take home $0.20/day until the loan is paid off. This means he can invest in a higher-output system and/or get shorter-term financing and start making real money sooner.

            b) Financing PV should carry much lower risk than the pedal-gen. Mr. Pedal could get sick or injured or just fed up with the whole thing. What then? His equipment could be repossesed and resold as used, but there’s a cost to that. Which means higher interest rates and even more difficulty breaking even.

            I’ll be curious to see whether the scheme works, but I remain sceptical about human-electric being “appropriate technology.” Anywhere!

          • Sjefssynseren

            And interesting thoughts at that:
            1 and 2) 5 lights charged at time at 20 minutes of pedaling at 60 rpm. I really doubt that this increases caloric needs compared to manual labor in fields or similar. And although I do not think it is a fair assumption to make that the bikers caloric intake will consist of beef to any considerable degree, as these countries have staple foods such as bananas, rice etc. – we’re talking rural Africa – beef production in these contexts is not corporate agribusiness – cattle and sheep graze on empty plots of land in between village houses. The environmental effects are hugely different from those of industial meat production.

            That being said, not everyone in these contexts are involved in subsistence agricultural activities – a salary like the one this provides enables the person to live comfortably without the need to produce his own food – though, again, assuming that he wouldn’t have time is again a bit of a stretch – it is unlikely he will be able to fill 10 hours per day with pedaling at max potential – that would mean 15 lights per hour, and 150 per day. At a cost per charge that puts him at 30 USD per day – and quickly the richest man in his village. However, even half that is a huge step up form the poverty line at 2 USD per day.
            European and US prices per KW aren’t in any way relevant. Neither is the comparison to kerosenecosts per kilowatt, as kerosene is not used to fuel electricity generators, but burned in open-vick lamps, creating a terrible light output, and simultaneously causing indoor pollution with adverse effects on the health of the household.
            The pedalers maximum hourly wage is as calculated above (adjusting for actual hours of operation, so is the daily maximum).

            3 ). True, though this is the advantage of the distribution system – the distances involved are minimized. Additionally, these are not car batteries – you bring the lightweight led-lamp to the center of your village, leave it with Mr. Pedal power while you get your eggs and groceries at the market or have a cup of tea, and pick it up before you head home.

            4. Sure. And if this job served as a springboard to something else, that would be a good thing. The job would fall to someone else, and the cycle might repeat itself – the ultimate benefit being that livelihoods improve. At the same time, not everyone is perhaps as ambitious as you, and a stable income several times higher then previously and better than the average may be comfortable and sufficient for others. This is a positive dynamic. I wouldn’t worry about the heat on their behalf, even if I agree on my own behalf.

            5) An appendix product of these lights are a solar charger that does eliminate this need. Why not use solar right away then? Well, this is the point about inclusive development. For certain customer segments 20 USD for a lantern is appropriate and this solution suitable. FOr others, a 80 KW panel might be the same. But the poorest will still be excluded. The added benefit is that these solar charger appendixes are distributed by the same system as the pedal-charged lamps, and thus it does not suffer under that challenge, that has seen many a solar project fail.

            Comparing the technologies, you’d have to talk to an engineer about the effectiveness of solar vs. human power – Could you charge 5 equivalent lights in 20 minutes of solar charging? What effect would the panel need to be for that to work?

            But the main advantage I guess is that pedal power is available in wet season as much as in dry season, whereas solar is less effective in rainy seasons, and obviously only until sunset regardless of seasons. This is after all tropical climates.

            A and B seem rather far fetched theoretical scenarios. No job in the world is insured against the employee getting fed up. When that happens a person like everywhere else has to live up to his commitments. A rigid use of candidate selection criteria is probably the best way to guard against it, but in these contexts, this doesn’t seem to be an issue.

            These are people without regular access to credit, and thus their investments are funded by micro finance institutions and repayment terms are adjusted to the loan-takers repayment abilities This has worked for 20-30 years since the Grameen bank started up, so the empirical data is pretty solid on that.

            Skepticism is good. Thanks for making me think twice about all these points, as your perspective is clearly different from mine.

          • Peter Gray

            Sjefssynseren,

            Thanks for your extensive reply, and I’ll try to make mine brief for a change…

            I don’t think you need to be as poorly informed about the basic physics of energy as you apparently are. You have the whole world of Wikipedia available. Come on, use it!

            “1 and 2) 5 lights charged at time at 20 minutes of pedaling at 60 rpm.”

            The number of lights and the charging time and the RPM tell us _nothing_ about the energy involved. How many watts do the lights consume? If there’s no resistance, an infant could spin the pedals all day without breaking a sweat – but she won’t charge any batteries. (BTW, bikers get best performance at ~90 RPM, but that’s not important)

            “I really doubt that this increases caloric needs compared to manual labor in fields or similar.”

            That’s not the point. Whether pedaling or hoeing, a person at the limits of human work capacity (or at the same fraction of that) will have the same caloric requirement. But the guy with a PV panel on his roof can work the fields and charge batteries _at the same time_! With the pedal-gen, he can do one or the other – and if he wants to pay for the thing, he’d better be pedaling. So with pedaling, the village gets lighting, but loses that guy’s farm output. With solar they can have both. How can you not see that?

            “it is unlikely he will be able to fill 10 hours per day with pedaling at max potential – that would mean 15 lights per hour, and 150 per day.”

            Unless we know the watt-hour cpacity of each battery, that’s nothing but useless handwaving. Look up the capacity, then we might have something to discuss.

            ” At a cost per charge that puts him at 30 USD per day – and quickly the richest man in his village.”

            Whoa-ho-ho! You got a big laugh out of me with that. Look, I already told you that maximum human output is about 1 kWh/day. It’s a quick, rough estimate, but an optimistic one, based on top endurance athlete performance. Wecan’t be sure every African village has one of those, let alone that he can do it day after day after day… I also mentioned, for reference, that nobody in the US pays more than $0.30/kWh (except for the diesel-electric “grid” of Alaskan villages). In the Pacific Northest, we pay $0.06.

            To underline the point, that’s what we pay for the _most_ that Mr. Pedals can create in a day. Now you’re telling me that African villagers will happily pay 100-500 times more for electricity than Americans pay. Well, they might be willing to pay that much, in tiny quantities for night lighting, if it’s really scarce. But it’s pretty easy these days to get solar power for $0.25-0.50/kwh.

            So I generously said Mr. Pedals would have to beat $1/kwh, in case it’s mysteriously much more costly to ship PV panels to Africa than pedal-gens. But as you point out, that puts him, at best, halfway to the poverty line – before he starts paying for the damn thing. It just doesn’t add up, and no magic bike is going to help with that.

            “Comparing the technologies, you’d have to talk to an engineer about the effectiveness of solar vs. human power – Could you charge 5 equivalent lights in 20 minutes of solar charging? What effect would the panel need to be for that to work?”

            I know enough engineering that I don’t need to consult one, but in this case, neither do you! Just look up some numbers. Do your own fact-checking. Make sure you understand what “kilowatt-hour” really means. It’s not so hard.

            I already explained the situation in earlier posts, and I showed how it’s impossible for pedal generation to break even, but for some reason you don’t believe me. Why? If you did your own calculations and found errors in mine (which is more than possible), we could discuss that – but you didn’t.

            “But the main advantage I guess is that pedal power is available in wet season as much as in dry season, whereas solar is less effective in rainy seasons, and obviously only until sunset regardless of seasons. This is after all tropical climates.”

            Valid points, but not enough to make up for solar’s 10:1 advantage (at least). Solar production in actual use is well documented and easy to find. It’s easy to figure PV/battery capacity needed to cover rainy seasons. Since either system is battery-based, night time is not an issue.

            “A and B seem rather far fetched theoretical scenarios. No job in the world is insured against the employee getting fed up.”

            Not just theoretical. Can’t you see the difference in “employees”? Mr. Pedals is committed to working like an Olympic athlete all day, every day, at the most boring imaginable job ever devised (an important point we’ve neglected here). Even if he goes into it with full enthusiasm, I’d say he’s _very_ likely to get fed up – esp. when he finds he can only get halfway to the poverty line. How about Mr. Solar’s job? After he bolts the panels to his roof, all he needs to do is spend a half-hour per day, or maybe every 2nd or 3d day, swapping batteries with the villagers and counting (which Mr. Pedals must do as well after he’s done pedaling). His teenage child could take care of that. We can count on Mr. Solar not to get fed up – because there’s nothing to get fed up about!

            “When that happens a person like everywhere else has to live up to his commitments. A rigid use of candidate selection criteria is probably the best way to guard against it, but in these contexts, this doesn’t seem to be an issue.”

            Aside from the handwaving arguments, guess what? Things like “rigid candidate selection criteria” have a cost – that someone must pay for.

            “Skepticism is good.”

            I’m with you on that, needless to say. Now how about applying it yourself to some of the silly, wasteful schemes people try to sell you? And you can count on one thing: they’re not going to stop.

            “… your perspective is clearly different from mine.”
            I’m not sure my perspective is as different as you imagine. The difference is in how I apply it.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Let me throw something else into the discussion.

            I’ll preface it by stating that this pedal stuff looks like someone found a “solution” and is now trying to find the problem it solves.

            The problem of basic lighting is solved using solar which is affordable and very low effort. Asking someone to pay as much/more for a pedal generator and pedal it every day comes in second.

            Now if solar weren’t available another group has a much less demanding solution. They’ve got a “gravity light”. Basically every 20, 30 minutes someone needs to go over and lift a small weight up a few feet. As the weight falls it turns a small generator and powers a LED.

            Something this simple beats a kero lamp hands down. Cheap parts. One step below micro-solar. Light without a daily labor input.

          • Peter Gray

            “I’ll preface it by stating that this pedal stuff looks like someone found a ‘solution’ and is now trying to find the problem it solves.”
            That’s the most charitable take I can think of, and I sort of agree, but aren’t you being generous to a fault? When someone invents a solution, it’s understandable to look for a problem it can solve, but isn’t it that person’s responsibility to check whether the device was invented before? And if it was invented long ago and nobody else found a problem for it, to figure out why? Before wasting other people’s time on it? It’s called doing your homework.
            In this case, the “invention” has been around for many decades, with no significant improvements. I remember bike generators set up at the county fair when I was a child, to show people how hard it is to light up a 100-watt bulb.
            Generators now might be slightly lighter or a teeny tiny bit more efficient, but this is not new technology by any stretch, nor do I believe it deserves to be called clean or green. In most places it wouldn’t qualify as a high school science project.
            Sometimes changes in circumstances or other technology mean something old and abandoned warrants a second look. Better rechargeable batteries and 4x more efficient lamps, in this case. But meanwhile PV costs have dropped so much that this invention doesn’t even come close, as I think I showed above. Maybe pedal power comes in second, but it’s so far behind in solar’s dust as to be barely visible.
            So why are we wasting all this time discussing it? Sorry to say, but I fault Cleantech editors for not being more discriminating. The same thing happens way too often, and it discredits the whole site. It makes me wonder, what _wouldn’t_ Cleantech be willing to post, if it has buzzwords like “clean,” “green,” or “efficient” in it somewhere?
            As you know, many people who aren’t highly educated on energy come here to learn. When something like this appears here, as a regurgitated press release, without a word of critical commentary, many readers take that as an endorsement.
            Then the not-so-pleasant task of debunking is up to one or a few commenters, if they can afford to donate the time. I’m disappointed in Cleantech (for the nth time).

          • Bob_Wallace

            From time to time the bar is set low around here.

            I’d rather not see some of the stuff get in, but stuff happens.

            Perhaps there’s value in explaining to others why ideas that lack merit lack merit. A teaching moment…..

          • Peter Gray

            I understand how that can happen, but minimal journalistic standards suggest that the blogger, who’s not even named in this case, should at least add something like: “But since a pedaler can only produce about one kwh per day, maybe we should look at how it stacks up against solar.” That would take maybe 5 minutes of research and thought, plus 30 seconds of writing. Not doing so looks sloppy and lazy.

            “Perhaps there’s value in explaining to others why ideas that lack merit lack merit. A teaching moment…..”

            Just after replying, I thought of the same thing. I hope critical and constructively skeptical thinking is something people learn and exercise here, but it’s hard to tell how much of that is happening…

          • Peter Gray

            “Now if solar weren’t available another group has a much less demanding solution. They’ve got a “gravity light”. Basically every 20, 30 minutes someone needs to go over and lift a small weight up a few feet. As the weight falls it turns a small generator and powers a LED.”
            I saw a little item about that a couple years ago and I was intrigued. Now I’d have big doubts. The key phrase is “if solar weren’t available.” But it is…
            The only way this thing could work is with a really tiny LED – like the ones in those crappy little $4 solar outdoor path lights that last about 4 hr/night (I guess they’re not so crappy – we have about a dozen, and they do an okay job). I guess you could read or find your way around the house by one of those…
            But it makes a nice reality check, doesn’t it? I doubt the weight and cord and mechanism little generator could cost < $4 (which includes a glass lampshade, a sheet metal rainshield, and a stake). And there's the little inconvenience of resetting it in the dark several times/hour. It's just one more nail in human power's coffin…

          • Sjefssynseren

            Hehe, one tries and one fails, and then tries again.

            I do not intend to resent handwaving arguments, but i am trying to focus the discussion not on what is most effective in terms of EROEI an so on, but instead on what has actually made a lasting difference in these contexts, and contributed to sustainable development.

            It’s not that I am necessarily so poorly informed about the physics of it all, i just on’t think they are what is relevant i the context. Clearly there is a reason why solar energy has been a favorite among development workers for a couple of decades. Free energy from the sun sounds amazing – and it is. It’s just that the attempts at disseminating the technology has failed a number of times. I am not necessarily saying that pedal power is the solution to all the worlds energy problems, however, in certain contexts, it is proving a viable solution to first-time electrification. The physics does not change the economic climate within it needs to work – if that was the case, “peak oil” would long ago have legitimized and implemented a paradigm shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy in the western context.

            Ideally, there should be hybrid (solar/mini-hydro/wind) powered micro-grids in every village. This would in the future make an excellent basis for the development of a smart-grid with decentralized production – however, the issue remains that the price point for implementation is much higher than the development budgets, national electricity agency budgets or the open market (though end-user payments) even in combination is able to handle. Inclusive development is contingent on including those who cannot pay for these services themselves.

            If you can find a way to make it financially viable to implement a solution based on solar panels, i would applaud your discovery. I’m not saying it’s impossible, i’m saying that unless basing this on aid and charity, there has not yet been a single sustainable effort undertaken. (Unless you define the success factor a “lights where still operational 6 months after dissemination” this just has not happened yet.) So far there are more successful electrification programs based on pedal power.

            The usual narratives from solar markets is that the local suppliers are drowned out by charity projects flooding the market with cheap Chinese panels, and undermining whatever solar industry was in the phase of gaining traction. All with the best intentions, of course, but also completely ignorant of the lessons learned in development. One of the most important lessons is letting markets develop, rather than dumping equipment in select sites.

            The point is: If the 80 kw panel was attainable to most of the population the local markets would flourish. If 20 dollar solar lamps were attainable, that market would flourish – but neither of them does. Pedal powered LED-lights at less than 40% of the price point of the cheapest solar modules do, because they are attainable even to the poorest of the poor. That’s where the development needs to start. And in 20-30 years time, like all development projects, it should ideally make itself obsolete, because their initial customers have improved their purchasing power to where a more efficient system is obtainable. Currently, we have no sustainable systems or methods for leapfrogging that initial stage, in spite of many attempts at doing so. The fact that we do not learn from that, and adjust development efforts to the needs and conditions of the people we are trying to assist, that is what keeps (rural) Africa poor.

            For an interesting perspective on the impact of aid in Africa, i recommend Dambisa Moyo’s “Dead aid.” http://www.dambisamoyo.com/books-and-publications/book/dead-aid/

            I really have to call it quits on this discussion. It’s been interesting, and I appreciate the different perspectives and thought provoking arguments, but we are kind of talking past each other, and my free time is up. Have a good weekend, when it soon comes around.

          • A Real Libertarian

            “And in 20-30 years time, like all development projects, it should
            ideally make itself obsolete, because their initial customers have
            improved their purchasing power to where a more efficient system is
            obtainable.”

            30 years was how long it took South Korea to go from “Half as wealthy as Ghana” to “Near first world”.

          • Sjefssynseren

            And 20 years is only two thirds f that. In any case, South Korea and the other Asian tigers s hardly comparable, considering they are a unique success story in development history, the reasons for which are several, but perhaps chiefly – no sub-Saharan African country ha the institutions the four tigers had. A utterly unrealistic expectation. The IEA’s perspective is the next 16 years to 2030 – it is not very likely the goals of electrification rates will be reached in that perspective, considering the lacking effort and commitment shown by the worlds development organizations. But I’m optimistic nevertheless.

          • A Real Libertarian

            “no sub-Saharan African country ha the institutions the four tigers had.”

            “Institutions” and “Culture” are just words thrown around to excuse failure.

            If you want to find out how they did it read “Bad Samaritans” by Ha-Joon Chang.

          • Peter Gray

            <>
            Not true about institutions (or cultural habits that grow from them). It’s easy to take mostly-healthy economic and political structures for granted, and hard to imagine what it’s like to live your whole life in a society rife with corruption at every level, if you haven’t been there.
            And what’s your explanation for chronic societal failure? I assume you’re not going to blame some ethnic or racial or genetic trait, since that’s been debunked countless times. So what is it, then?

          • A Real Libertarian

            “And what’s your explanation for chronic societal failure?”

            I’d blame the IMF and World Bank changes around 1980.

            In the 20 years before then, Latin America’s per-Capita GDP rose about 74% and Sub-Saharan Africa by about 34%.

            In the 20 years after then, Latin America’s per-Capita GDP rose about 7% and Sub-Saharan Africa fell by about 23%.

            That was the time of the Washington Consensus.

          • Peter Gray

            What exactly did the IMF and World Bank do to cause such a profound change – foster a “culture of dependency”? ;-)
            I’m not being facetious, just don’t know the history as well as I should – while remaining skeptical about single-variable explanations and conspiracy theories…

          • A Real Libertarian

            First start with this basic explanation:

            http://www.theguardian.com/business/2001/apr/29/business.mbas

            Then look through the works of Joseph Stiglitz (the former Chief Economist for the World Bank):

            http://www.josephstiglitz.com/

            And then search for more.

          • Peter Gray

            Thanks, I’ll pursue that. I think pretty highly of Stiglitz!

          • A Real Libertarian

            You’re welcome.

          • Peter Gray

            http://www.theguardian.com/business/2001/apr/29/business.mbas
            Interesting and shocking stuff. As it happens, a Korean friend, co-author, and former professor of mine took an IMF position last year. He’s smart and open-minded, so I’ll try to get his take on Stiglitz’s critique.

            I’ve gotten much more than I expected out of chatting with you. Must admit to stereotyping your views based on your commenter name. Having gone through such a phase in my early 20s, I think of libertarians as hopelessly simplistic and naive. Perhaps the “real” ones are something different?

          • A Real Libertarian

            “I’ve gotten much more than I expected out of chatting with you. Must admit to stereotyping your views based on your commenter name. Having gone through such a phase in my early 20s, I think of libertarians as hopelessly simplistic and naive. Perhaps the “real” ones are something different?”

            The name is a reference to Joseph Déjacque:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_D%C3%A9jacque

            It’s so funny when a “Great Heroic, Defender of Property Rights” is confronted with the fact that even the name they call themselves is stolen.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “Clearly there is a reason why solar energy has been a favorite among development workers for a couple of decades. Free energy from the sun sounds amazing – and it is. It’s just that the attempts at disseminating the technology has failed a number of times.”

            In the last two decades reality has changed. In the last two years reality has changed. Solar has become cheap.

          • Peter Gray

            Sorry you’re giving up on the discussion, Sjefssynseren, but also sorry that you still haven’t left us with any evidence for your assertions.

            “… i am trying to focus the discussion not on what is most effective in terms of EROEI an so on, but instead on what has actually made a lasting difference in these contexts, and contributed to sustainable development.”

            Where has pedal power done this? If you’re so sure about it, there must be some documentation, right? So how many pedal-gens are in operation, for how many years? How much do they sell for? How much do the pedalers produce, and what are they paid? If you won’t show us answers to any of this, why should we believe you?

            “It’s not that I am necessarily so poorly informed about the physics of it all, i just on’t think they are what is relevant i the context.”

            I didn’t mean to offend, but you look poorly informed when you claim that pedalers can earn more than $30/kwh, which is at least 60 times the cost of equivalent solar output. Someone making that much could replace himself by paying cash for retail PV after saving his earnings for 10 days – and then make $30/day for the next 20+ years with no labor at all. If you claim the physics aren’t relevant in certain special contexts, that’s an extraordinary assertion, so it ought to be backed with some evidence.

            “The physics does not change the economic climate within it needs to work – if that was the case, “peak oil” would long ago have legitimized and implemented a paradigm shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy in the western context.”

            After reading this several times, I still have no idea whwt it means.

            “So far there are more successful electrification programs based on pedal power.”

            Where? Just give us one documented example.

            “Pedal powered LED-lights at less than 40% of the price point of the cheapest solar modules do, because they are attainable even to the poorest of the poor.”

            The cheapest solar/LED/battery modules I know of are the little outdoor walkway lights that retail for $4 including inessential glass shades, rain shields, and mounting stakes, so let’s say $3 for the important parts. Are you saying a pedal system sells for $1.20? Or do you have some other “cheapest” module in mind? Unless you cite actual equipment and actual prices, it’s just handwaving and blowing smoke.

            “Currently, we have no sustainable systems or methods for leapfrogging that initial stage, in spite of many attempts at doing so.”

            What’s this? http://cleantechnica.com/2011/11/17/world-bank-bringing-solar-power-to-over-1-million-homes-shops-in-rural-bangladesh/

            Or this? http://www.barefootcollege.org/solutions/solar-electrification/

            Or this? http://edition.cnn.com/2012/02/16/world/pay-solar-africa/index.html

          • Sjefssynseren

            Peter, for someone who suggests that I look into the physics of all by use of wikipedia, you aren’t putting a lot of effort in yourself. several of the questions you pose are answered o the website i sent you. A quick search in google, or any academic libraries you have access to, will provide you with further data. But at the end of the day, we aren’t getting anywhere, and that is because we aren’t communicating – creating common ground. I have repeatedly pointed out what contexts i am referring to, but yet you still base your arguments on prices and evidence from completely different contexts.

            “Where? Just one documented example.”
            – If one is enough for you, why not actually open and read around a bit on the link i provided? Locations (Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, India(, number of operatives (10 000) and prices (lights 6 USD, re-charge 0.20 USD) are available right there. (I have further provided an additional link toward the end of this text, here the off-grid market in Rwanda is reviewed for several technologies. There are similar reports for pretty much any country you’d like to take a closer look at, from a variety of organizations.)

            With 10 000 pedalling entrepreneurs currently in operation, arguments that they cannot produce energy at such and such rates based on your calculations become, well, irrelevant.

            And again, just because you know about solar modules that cost three dollars doe not man that these are available at such prices, if at all, to people in rural African villages without electricity. If I was a businessman I wouldn’t sell light bulbs in off-grid locations any more than i would sell sand in the Sahara. However, if you design a distribution system that provides appropriate technologies at suitable price points through a customized distribution system, you might actually succeed. But if you used data and stats from a completely different context (which is what often happens) you would likely reach your target market with a product not at all in tune with your customers, and failure would ensue.

            “you claim that pedalers can earn more than $30/kwh,”
            – I haven’t mentioned kwh. I have pointed out that if Mr. Pedals charges he maximum number if lights in 10 hours of intense work with no breaks, he stands to cash in 30 USD. I have no idea how many kilowatts that is, but those lights could light up 150 homes/rooms. But naturally there are a number of factors that are not accounted for, so the math becomes so hypothetical it’s hardly worth getting fixated on.

            Your first links regards solar home systems – they have been explored in my previous comments. The key point is that the project is funded by 130m USD in aid. A brilliant example of how international donors undercut local suppliers and distributors. It may electrify these homes and businesses, but extensive research shows that their contribution to sustainable development is minimal. Don’t take my word for it – look it up.

            Barefoot runs on donations and aid. Aid has never and will never form a part of successful sustainable development. It should be reserved for disaster relief efforts, not ongoing and long lasting social projects – this has to come as consequence of a functioning local economy. Aid undermines that rather than support it.

            Your last link, Indigo, is an example of exactly what I have been trying to focus on – a suitable distribution system, the pay as you go, is the key to the success. But still, this system leads to a weekly cost of lighting at 1 USD, 5 times the cost of Nuru energy’s pedal power, at 0.20 USD. Still, both are lower than the equivalent kerosene expenses would be, without the adverse effects thereof. However, at a lower price point, the pedal powered systems, if they were operating side-by-side, would be less exclusive than the solar one. 1 dollar a week is still a bit of money to someone earning 2 USD per day. A certain segment would be unable to benefit, while the pedal powered light would enable them to still “get off kerosene.” And as you pointed out, after a couple of weeks or months he could sell his light and use his savings to upgrade to the solar system. The degree of exclusion is the difference.

            These aren’t just my opinions Peter, these are well established lesson learnt by developers through six decades of westerners with the best intentions dictating the needs of the underdeveloped to the underdeveloped. Finally in the last decade the focus has shifted to a view of the beneficiaries as stakeholders, and important steps have been taken toward inclusive and sustainable development, rather than top-down approaches based not on what works, but what is most desirable to the decision makers.

            http://www.gvepinternational.org/sites/default/files/rwanda-solar-study-v1.6_small4.pdf

            “The cheapest solar/LED/battery modules I know of are the little outdoor walkway lights that retail for $4 including inessential glass shades, rain shields, and mounting stakes, so let’s say $3 for the important parts, at most.”
            – Are you joking? Again, context – have you seen these parts retail at those prices in a rural African village or on a shelf at a local Wal-Mart? What do you suggest an illiterate, swahili-speaking, off-grid dweller does? Hop on the internet and have them delivered to the third house after the school, and pay in cash when amazon gets there, seeing as he has no access to credit, and certainly not a card, or paypal account? Even if the same exact lights were transported to africa, import taxes were paid, and a shop agreed to take them into their inventory – a risky decision, to say the least, in a village with no electricity – do you think they would still retail at 3 dollars? Are pedal power in east-Africa competing with the walkway lights at your local mall?

            Listen, i’m trying to keep this productive and all, but I don’t think we have anywhere to go from here. I still appreciate you thoughts and questions, as they forced me to think about issues from angles that are not the first to come to mind. Unfortunately I feel the challenges they produced were based on unrealistic and/or irrelevant comparisons and concepts. I have learned a couple of things, though, so thank you for that. Every exchange of opinion or information is a chance to learn something new.

            Have a good weekend.

          • Peter Gray

            Okay, I checked out those links, and apologize for missing them earlier. It looks like they have something going on there, but since it all seems to come from the company promoting the product, I’d like to see some kind of outside corroboration.

            Taking Nuru’s claims at face value, I can’t deny that they’re pulling it off, and people are happy with it, but it seems like a bit of a scam. According to Nuru itself, a light unit can be charged in 20 minutes at 50W, which means 0.017 kwh. If that lasts for 28 hours as claimed, the light must draw 0.0006 watts. That must be extremely dim, even for an LED, and if the entrepreneur is selling the charge for $1, that’s a phenomenally high $60/kwh, exactly 1,000 times what I pay at home in the US.

            In terms of economics, this fascinating, as it illustrates at the rarely observed extreme high-price, low-quantity end of the demand curve. I’m amazed this can be sustained for even a very short time. It looks like Nuru must do some amazing marketing to keep brand loyalty and prevent people from switching to solar. And I’d bet Nuru has exclusive territories to prevent competition – otherwise how could they sustain such jaw-dropping electricity prices?

            I know African villagers can’t just drop in to Home Depot or order from ebay, but how can it be that hard to bring in PV panels? I can buy a good-quality 40W one right now for < $70. That would charge at least 14 Nuru lamp sets per 6-hour-equivalent day, paying for itself in 5 days! A $150 100W panel would support lighting for a village of 245 homes, and would pay for itself in 4.3 days.

            I don't get why nobody has followed the same business model with PV panels. There's a gigantic opening for providing higher profit, lower prices, and brighter lights all at the same time.

            I'm pretty aware of the intl aid problem, mainly related to food donations, which destroy local agriculture and set the stage for the next famine. I know the US has beenone of the worst offenders, but there is growing awareness here, and some movement for change. I didn't know the same thing has happened with energy, and it's a little hard to see why it would happen with donated PV panels, but I'll take your word for it.

            Thanks for your patience and further explanation, Sjefssynseren. By the way, are you from Ethiopia?

          • Sjefssynseren

            “entrepreneur is selling the charge for $1, ”
            – No, a charge costs 0.20 USD, however, the generator allows 5 lights to be charged at once, earning him 1 USD from up to 5 different customers. It will take the same work input to charge 1 light as it does 5 so i imagine they will attempt to “collect” lamps from customers as far as possible, but this is obviously a variable that can’t easily be calculated.

            “1,000 times what I pay at home in the US.”
            – Aside from the correction above, compare this to what electricity cost in rural us 50 years ago, and you perhaps have a reasonable comparison. Northern Europe has the cleanest water in the world running through their pipes at less than a cent per gallon – but that’s doesn’t stop Voss from selling the same water at 25 USD per bottle at Wahlgreens in the US ;-)

            ” but how can it be that hard for some entrepreneur to bring in PV panels?”

            – Hehe, this is an easy question with no easy answer. Aside from government corruption, import licenses, taxes and bureaucracy coupled with aversion to risk taking activities, lack of access to credit for investment etc. the main one, in my view, is market failure. Aid supported programs from foreign NGOs and others flood the market and effectively kill any local industry. But even when they have brought in panels, they still put their own energy, time and funds into educating the population on why they should by the product (this differs from simple marketing as we know it from the west – what marketer would tell people they really need a product and then sell it at less than cost? This is in the end aid.- which, again, does not promote a local business environment. Over a trillion dollars has been given in aid over the last six decades, yet we are still talking about how to bring people light…)

            “I don’t get why nobody has followed the same business model with PV panels.”

            – You could try! – the higher investment might pose a threat to you r profits, as they will still be low – because at the end of the day purchasing power is still limited, and you will end up excluding the poorest. Pedal power is attempting to overcome this. THe closest solution is seen for example in Kenya, where Juhhudo Kilimo is trying something along the lines of what you describe, but then supported (heavily) by micro finance – otherwise the market is just not there – the people are, the demand is, but the ability to pay open market prices is not.

            My skepticism to solar systems is not that they are not good or beneficial, only that they are not inclusive. Your example from the agricultural sector speaks directly to the core of the problem. Enough exclusive projects have been implemented – we don’t need to do this again, we need to learn from it and innovate. Nuru have done that, and I wish them god luck, and will certainly look for independent impact reviews continually, when they have been in operation or a few years outside Rwanda also.

            “it’s a little hard to see why it would happen with donated PV panels”

            _- Sure, that’s why it’s been tried again and again – cause it seems so perfect. But donating panels demands follow up, something projects not often do. They have an evaluation after 6 months or a year and conclude it has been a success – but then panels stop working after two years, where are we at? NO supply lines for spare parts, no locals with the technical know-how to repair, and perhaps even no savings to purchase a new panel if they were still available, because focus has been on giving people the panel, not teach them what potential the kerosene-savings hold. At the end of the day, all donations undermine local suppliers of the same or competing product – which seems more sustainable? That Americans and Europeans fly in some food from time to time, or that local farmers, distributors and vendors are allowed to develop a system that works in their specific context? It seems intuitive that the latter will serve the population better, and i think the missionary ideals of morality has obscured peoples minds here – “we are here to help – that’ a good thing! Clearly it must work!”

            Nope, I’m not from Ethiopia, I’m European. And I could of course have put a lot more effort into my posts, but you know, concentration drops in between work sessions, which is when i check out sites like this one – and waste people’s time in talkbacks ;-)

            Have a good one, sir.

          • A Real Libertarian

            Food and Solar are not in anyway comparable beyond “both provide basic elements of life”.

            “Aid supported programs from foreign NGOs and others flood the market and effectively kill any local industry.”

            That’s bullshit. There’s no local solar industry to kill.

            You’re under the impression that Solar is expensive. It’s not. And it can charge cell phones.

          • Sjefssynseren

            Right, Libertarian. Because “markets” are a constructed concept, just like “government” that doesn’t actually make any sense what’s so ever. It can’t be seen so it can’t be real, and so lessons learned in agriculture cannot possibly apply to anything but agriculture. And this is of course in no way comparable to how McDonald’s applied lessons of labor division and specialization from industry and applied it to the restaurant business, coupled with the franchising business model developed by a sowing machine manufacturer. “Oh, please, Ron Paul, liberate us from the oppression of taxes that pays for our roads, so we can all drive 4wd’s on gravel and rubble. Amen”

            “There’s no local solar industry to kill.”
            – No, of course there isn’t. A sound argument, and solid, irrefutable references provided – I believe I was subjected to that very same criticism earlier. I guess this is where i ask you to provide me with some evidence that nowhere in Africa is there a local solar industry.

            http://www.ebay.in/itm/Great-design-portable-multitasking-Solar-LED-light-at-Introductory-offer-/171207216736?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_203&hash=item27dcbece60&_uhb=1#ht_932wt_1300

            “Key Features:
            Box includes 1 Nuru Light (NL2) with 1 Head-strap and 1 Wall-mounting accessory, 1 Head-strap, 1 wall-mounting accessory, 1 uru Solar Charger (PV1), 1 Nuru Mini Lantern (AL1) and 1 AC Adapter
            1 Year Limited Warranty (excludes AC Adapter)
            Rugged and Water resistant (IP41 rating): Works at 6000m above sea level and -30° C
            Detachable 0.3 watt Solar Panel with ‘On-charge indication’
            AL1 with 3 brightness settings for 360° lighting
            12 high-bright LEDs on AL1, 1 high-bright LED on NL2
            Modular energy platform:
            Multiple NL2s can be snapped together to form a lantern
            The NL2 can be used to power the Ambient Light and recharge mobile phones”

            That last sentence might be of most interest to you.

            Listen, I’m not a commercial for these products, I am trying to provide you with an alternative perspective. If you resort to “that’s bullshit, there is no solar industry” when there is a solar industry that employs thousands of people – then… i really don’t know what to say. I’m not going to google it for you. I’m just not. You are free to choose your ignorance, even in this age of information.

            I’m out.

          • A Real Libertarian

            “and so lessons learned in agriculture cannot possibly apply to anything but agriculture.”

            No you can’t generalize agriculture to solar power.

            It’s easy to go a month without a new solar lantern (because they last for years), it’s very hard to go without food for a month.

            “No, of course there isn’t. A sound argument, and solid, irrefutable references provided – I believe I was subjected to that very same criticism earlier. I guess this is where i ask you to provide me with some evidence that nowhere in Africa is there a local solar industry.”

            1. See the .in? That means India.

            2. Provide proof of solar manufacturing in Africa or shut up.

            P.S. If you can dig up local manufacturers, then let’s get the solar from them.

          • Sjefssynseren

            1. Sure, India was one of the context mentioned where peal power is proving successful. The same company is behind it in the India, and the model was developed in Rwanda. Not sure exactly what your point was, but i believe it was answered no?

            2. http://www.enfsolar.com/directory/panel/Africa

            3. “If you can dig up local manufacturers, then let’s get the solar from them.”

            No! Exactly my point. Let’s – let US ‘ – stay the hell out of it, and let the indigenous industry develop in tune with the overall economic growth. Granted, if you are already going to fund a solar implementation with aid and drown the local market, by all means – sourcing panels from African manufacturers is marginally better than using European, Chinese or American panels – however, the only part of the industry you support is the manufacturers, and they should arguably be allowed to compete against the foreign products, and through competition hone their skills and techniques and improve their product in tune with what the market demands. If “we” want to do anything at all from the outside, how about we invest and provide access to credit so Africans can innovate, rather than sending over our own products that help our own domestic industries? When in America, buy American. When in Africa, buy African.

            The solar industry comprises much more than simply manufacturers.

            I don’t care the least whether solar or pedal power wins out in the end. Peter seems to think solar is the superior technology, and he may be right. My interest lies with spurring development, and my particular focus is on inclusion of the poorest customer segments to allow for poverty eradication to take place at a grand scale. We are not going to eradicate poverty through aid, unless we completely revolutionized our global commercial systems, and went quasi-communist.

            Exactly where your interest lies is something I have not yet quite understood.

            “It’s easy to go a month without a new solar lantern, it’s very hard to go without food for a month.”

            – This is true, however, food is something you can grow yourself in emergencies – solar panels require a system of distribution and operation that ensures replacements are available – and for most Africans is not something they can fix in an emergency. Short term aid programs distribute, but do not follow up to any sufficient degree, up until this point at least. The key function of the pedaler is that he is a focal point to customers in the post implementation phase, and the costs of his role is covered by the recharge fees. A similar position in a solar project where panels are provided and electricity is generated freely requires aid funding to be sustainable post-implementation – as shown by Peters link t barefoot, where grandmas are educated for such a purpose. By all means a great project, but in what time frame will it last? There are many open-ended questions and we are surely set to learn a lot from such innovations over the next two-three decades. My bet is on the one that has created 10 000 jobs in three years, not the on that has disseminated hundreds of thousands of panels that will require maintenance by people who are paid by the generous donations of foreigners. What happens to the people dependent on the system if the aid stops flowing? What has happened to sums of the donations throughout this global financial crisis? Have the stayed the same? What if there is a further economic shock? Is it fair to expect Africans to depend on our charity – whe we can instead empower them to work their way out of their misfortune?

            It’s nice to want to help it’s stupid to keep doing it if you see it is actually doing them a disservice. (This is not necessarily aimed at Barefoot, as I have not made myself wholly familiar with the details of their operation.)

            I’ll revisit your argument for a second:
            “It’s easy to go a month without a new solar lantern (because they last for years), it’s very hard to go without food for a month”

            – Your comparison is obviously laughable – did i say solar is actually agriculture? That all aspects thereof are the same, similar and 100% comparable? Your argument is no better than saying “You can’t generalize between agriculture and solar panels, because you can’t eat solar panels.”

            Many “discoveries” for the agricultural sector are transferable to other industries, and many lessons have improved service provision in different sectors. This time i will keep my promise and NOT google that for you. I’ll point you in the direction of food and seed banks – if you are actually interested in anything but being right, i am convinced you can find several aspects that have been adopted from non-agricultural knowledge. And as your line of argumentation, coupled with a complete unwillingness to look up anything at all, an instead choose the most destructive of rhetorical approaches, I think this is where we draw the line.

          • A Real Libertarian

            “1. Sure, India was one of the context mentioned where peal power is proving successful. The same company is behind it in the India, and the model was developed in Rwanda. Not sure exactly what your point was, but i believe it was answered no?”

            The point is: I demanded you show solar manufacturing in Africa, and you showed a solar lantern for sale in India. If you can’t see how that’s different… well it would explain a lot.

            “3. ‘If you can dig up local manufacturers, then let’s get the solar from them.’

            No! Exactly my point.”

            You say you are not opposed to solar, but you demand solar not come from outside or inside Africa so I have no clue where it’s supposed to come from.

            “Many “discoveries” for the agricultural sector are transferable to other industries, and many lessons have improved service provision in different sectors. This time i will keep my promise and NOT google that for you.”

            That doesn’t change the fact that food aid and solar lanterns aren’t comparable.

            “coupled with a complete unwillingness to look up anything at all”

            If you claim something, the burden of proof is on you to back it up. And telling the person asking for sources to “Go look it up” doesn’t count as a source.

            “an instead choose the most destructive of rhetorical approaches”

            That’s the problem, you think this about rhetoric instead of solutions.

            “There are many open-ended questions and we are surely set to learn a lot from such innovations over the next two-three decades. My bet is on the one that has created 10 000 jobs in three years, not the on that has disseminated hundreds of thousands of panels that will require maintenance by people who are paid by the generous donations of foreigners.”

            My bet is on the one that has a track record across 4 continents and fifty years, the one founded in a third-world nation, the one being run by third-worlders. Not the one with fuzzy math and fuzzier jargon.

          • Peter Gray

            <>

            I saw that 5 lamps can be charged at once, but there’s no correction needed, and my $/kwh price is still correct, whether the charge goes to 1 battery or 5. Nuru says the pedal-gen puts out 50W for 20 minutes, so that’s 50/3 Wh = 50/3000 = 1/60 kwh, and $1/(1/60)kwh = $60/kwh. So each customer pays $0.20, but gets light 5x weaker than the extremely dim value I calculated earlier. There’s no getting around that.

            <>

            You have a good point here, and as I said, the spectacular price illustrates how much even dirt-poor people will pay for something very scarce. Maybe I live in the wrong part of the country, but I’ve never seen water at $25/gallon in a regular-folks store. Even though Americans are known for paying stupid prices for stuff no different from what comes from their taps, this is 5-10x higher than anything typical.

            Moreover, your analogy is not appropriate for PV panels. Water starts very cheap per mass or volume, so when it’s transported, shipping accounts for almost the entire final price. A PV panel starts out > 10,000 times more costly per kg, so shipping it anywhere only adds a small fraction to the original price. That’s why there’s a nearly constant “world price” for solar components, whether in the US, Europe, or Australia. Maybe not in Africa, where only small generators and batteries are immune to shipping costs. :-)

            <>

            I know about the corruption, but it’s weird it would apply to solar gear and not to pedal-gens. You’ve convinced me it’s happening, but I’m curious about the details. Have missionary-zealous NGOs so badly sabotaged the solar market? Could it be a cultural thing, where people are willing to pay someone who’s clearly working, but not someone who’s selling the same product for less, but getting it by sitting around and letting some device on the roof do the work? I totally agree that only market failure can explain such a stunning discrepancy in costs and prices, and such wasteful innefficiency – but market failure comes in a myriad of flavors…

            <>

            I’m very interested in this, and I would like more explanation of why solar panels are inherently non-inclusive. By the way, it’s not that I think solar is the solution to every problem, but they seem ideally suited to most of the developing world, which is tropical or sub-tropical, and they should require very little maintenance (e.g., compared to wind turbines)

            I’m still trying to guess your nationality, Sjefssynseren. Finland? Norway?

            I need to get back to real research work. Have a good weekend!

          • Sjefssynseren

            “I saw that 5 lamps can be charged at once, but there’s no correction needed,”

            – My bad, I assumed wrongly from the context. We are then both on the extreme differences in price. I am not sure how much, if any, the U-S subsidized it’s energy sector, but i expect that is a partial explanation. But leaving that aside, you can see the same pattern in the energy sources both these technologies would ideally replace – Kerosene in east Africa retails at prices nobody would buy it for in the U.S (check for example: Radecsky, K., P., Johnstone, A., Jacobson, E., Mills. 2007. Solid‐State Lighting on a Shoestring Budget: The Economics of Off‐Grid Lighting for Small Businesses in Kenya. Lumina Project. Technical Report #3. or this lighting africa report: http://www.dalberg.com/documents/Lighting_Africa_Market_Trends_Report_2012.pdf)
            In this case I know government subsidies take a large part of the explanation, however, this last report illuminates another aspect interesting to our discussion: In east Africa, kerosene retails at approx. 35% more in rural locations compared to urban ones – and this is where you find the users of kersoene for lighting, meaning this is the sensitive rice point for any technology seeking to replace it.

            That being said, I did exaggerate the price of the Voss water bottle, or rather, i took the price of a tiny 8 oz bottle in a hotel mini bar and applied it to walgreens. So no, not an exact comparison, and I see your point on production vs. distribution costs.

            “why solar panels are inherently non-inclusive”
            I’m not saying they are, i’m just saying that the approaches that have been tried have either not been inclusive or not sustainable over time. If the source of funding is aid, and panels are given away for free, they are inclusive, but experience show not sustainable. If they are based on end-user payment, they are not inclusive, though possibly sustainable, if the segments that do posses the purchasing power is large enough.

            But I am not going to say that it never will be both – a combination of reduced panel costs and inclusive economic growth is in my opinion the most likely way to make that happen, and that can of course stem from other things than electrification – but then again there are other revenue streams that could be tapped into, such as the carbon credits market, community based cooperation or public-private partnerships. This is certainly an under explored field in relation to these issues.

            Corruption applies equally across the technologies, but increases, i would assume, when the financial figures involved increase. Additionally I would assume anything that isn’t indigenous is more likely to be hindered by corruption, but these are speculations. The difference is between aid funded projects and end-user based approaches – corruption does not strike at daily 1 dollar transactions, whereas a multi-million project from a foreign donor… you know, where money is, greed follows ;-)
            “Have missionary-zealous NGOs so badly sabotaged the solar market?”

            – In some places, certainly (not necessarily missionary initiatives, but the “the league of good intentions” have caused harm several laces due to lacking understanding of the local contexts… For an interesting perspective on this challenge in development in general, not necessarily in electrification, do have a look at these two TED-talks – they are both worth the watch in and off themselves:
            http://www.ted.com/talks/ernesto_sirolli_want_to_help_someone_shut_up_and_listen.html
            http://www.ted.com/talks/david_damberger_what_happens_when_an_ngo_admits_failure.html

            ” Could it be a cultural thing, where people are willing to pay someone who’s clearly working, but not someone who’s selling the same product for less, but getting it by sitting around and letting some device on the roof do the work?”
            – Interesting hypothesis. Also because it’s actually possible to conduct an experiment on it, not just qualitative analysis.

            We should do that one day, meet up in Africa – I’ll bike, you’ll laze in the shade with a cold beer, and we’ll see who the locals prefer to buy from, “the harder worker” or “the smarter worker” – all other variables corrected for ;-)

            Good guess – I’m Norwegian. But i can see how the nickname would suggest Finland ;-)

          • Peter Gray

            <>

            Yes, I see a lot of potential for interesting research here. Persistent anomalous prices tend to get the attention of anyone with an economics background, and a gross market failure is always an opportunity to explore policy solutions.

            <>

            Sign me up! Sounds like a great plan. I suppose we could correct for the other variables by alternating the two roles each day…

          • A Real Libertarian

            Just a reminder “Culture” can’t be a determining factor in deciding whether industrialization succeeds.

            Because if it was then the happy-go-lucky and thieving Germans or the lazy and overly individualist Japanese wouldn’t have done it.

          • Peter Gray

            Is there a serious point in there somewhere? And let’s hope you’re kidding with the nutty stereotypes…

          • A Real Libertarian

            The point is that “Culture” has been used as an excuse for why some countries can’t industrialize for centuries.

            And then when they do, it’s explained by “Culture” again.

            I’m giving you 19th century explanations, notice how similar they are to current excuses?

          • Peter Gray

            Oh.

            And shallow leftwing pundits will reflexively oppose free trade. And rightwingers will prescribe tax cuts for the rich as the cure for everything. And Limbaugh will say more stupid things about women and everything else.

            So? How is any of that interesting or useful or likely to change if we complain about it?

            More to the point, how does it relate to what anyone here has been saying? I’ve seen some oblique references to culture, but in an attempt to understand a novel phenomenon, not to make excuses.
            Meanwhile, many smart people have spent their careers in honest, serious endeavors to better understand some of these mysteries, and try to make the world a better place. Instead of carping about strawmen, why not take advantage of what they’ve discovered?
            Again, if you want to better understand why some countries grow and prosper while others stagnate or regress, I’d start by reading Why Nations Fail. Some of your preconceptions might not survive the experience, but maybe that’s a good thing…

          • A Real Libertarian

            “So? How is any of that interesting or useful or likely to change if we complain about it?”

            It pays to remember the lessons of the past in order to avoid the same mistakes in the future.

            “Again, if you want to better understand why some countries grow and prosper while others stagnate or regress, I’d start by reading Why Nations Fail. Some of your preconceptions might not survive the experience, but maybe that’s a good thing…”

            I’ll check it out, but it was endorsed by Niall Ferguson and well… that’s not exactly high praise.

            You should check out Ha-Joon Chang’s work, he actually lived through a national industrialization.

          • Peter Gray

            Yeah, that’s not an endorsement to write home about, but check out http://www.amazon.com/Why-Nations-Fail-Origins-Prosperity/dp/0307719227/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1390617793&sr=1-1&keywords=why+nations+fail
            for high praise from Jared Diamond, Robert Solow, Kenneth Arrow, Peter Diamond, The Wall Street Journal, George Akerlof, and others.
            I haven’t read Chang, but I’m a bit put off by what sounds grossly simplistic in his “23 Things hey Don’t Tell You” schtick – which I would also apply to the Freakonomics franchise. But I’ll try reading some Chang.
            Hey, on a completely different topic this somehow brings to mind, if you enjoy brilliant, hilarious critique and satire, This Generation by Han Han is absolutely not to be missed! Trust me. And it’s cheap – ~$10 for digital or paper. I read it on Nook, then got a hard copy as backup. Sadly, the “50-center” tactic Han savages in the book has been successfully used against him to sabotage US sales. Check out the comments section on Amazon! I transcribed a half-dozen Han Han essays and will send them to you as a sample if you email me – peter underscore gray at wsu dot edu.

          • A Real Libertarian

            OK.

            Thanks but I don’t need a sample.

          • Peter Gray

            Okay – just thought if you’re in any doubt about whether it’s worth reading…

          • A Real Libertarian

            Thanks, but I’m good.

          • A Real Libertarian

            “It might sound ridiculous to you that people can’t afford $20 USD for a lamp that you know will easily “pay for itself” in kerosene savings”

            It is objectively ridiculous to say “$20 is too much, so lets pay hundreds or thousands to connect to the grid”. P.S. That’s an understatement of the costs.

            Mico-finance is necessary either way, so why not get a cheaper, better solution?

            In your link I can’t find pricing at all.

          • Sjefssynseren

            I don’t think you’ve read me correctly if you understood me as advocating for a grid-extension based approach.

            Pricing varies between countries and contexts – or rather, markets. As it should, but typically the lamps are sold at 6 USD – well under half of what a solar lantern with equivalent utilization possibilities costs.

            It is of course noteworthy that a solar lantern, once bought, is free to recharge and operate, while the pedal powered one has a recharge cost of typically 20 US cents. Considerably lower than kerosene, though higher than solar. The advantage, however, is that in addition to creating direct employment to the pedal-charger operators, it also creates a network of localized suppliers – which solar lantern distribution by NGOs typically suffer under the lack of, causing them to disintegrate after few years.

            This isn’t necessarily the only way to make the market work for the poor, but it is one way of doing so. To me that is satisfactory in the interim. If at some point a solar lantern distribution program can show numbers of an equivalent, near equivalent or grater positive impact, that will be a good thing. There is room for more solutions than one, when you’re talking about bringing electricity to almost a billion and a half people. The more technological directions are explored, the better.

            I’m not making this up as i go the research has been and is being done. This is just about learning from mistakes, rather than continuing in the same path because “the intention were good.” And both selling and giving away solar lanterns have so far not be particularly successful, whereas this company has employed 10 000 people in a few years. Time will show if it is sustainable, but their history of innovation bodes well for their ability to adjust to hanged market realities in the future.

          • Peter Gray

            Hi Sjefssynseren,

            I’m fairly familiar with appropriate technology concepts, and I know many things that work well in one place will not work in another area.

            I must say, bringing up the all-or-nothing idea of replacing all fossil fuel with human power seems like a strawman argument. My point was that human power can only hope to replace a microscopic fraction of our current energy demand, and as I understood it, the context of the blog post above is about reducing carbon emissions in developed countries. I still say its contribution for that can never be meaningful, so it’s better not to be distracted by it.

            I’ve read a little about non-profit efforts to distribute small, cheap solar lighting units in Africa, and that sounds like a great idea. We in the U.S. or Europe can barely imagine what a difference it would make to not have any light at night. However, it’s very hard for me to imagine how a reliable pedal generator could possibly be cheaper than a small solar panel plus a rechargeable battery – no matter which part of the world. A generator alone for less than $20? Where?

            On top of that, pedal power seems even less appropriate in a remote African village than it does here. Firstly, someone will have to pedal the thing. If it’s someone who’s done hard labor in the fields all day and barely has enough to eat, how’s that going to work? Secondly, I can’t imagine pedaling strenuously and getting much else done at the same time. The photo of the guy powering his laptop while typing is cute, but I doubt it’s realistic for most people. They could pedal-charge a battery, but then they’re taking on half the cost of a small-solar unit – and they still have to buy the generator and pedaling frame. A really small 20-watt PV panel could sit quietly in the sun all day and make twice as much energy as a strong man in an hour. Please explain more, but I really don’t see how the pedal generator makes sense.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Here’s an article from a couple years back. This is the first large successful program for getting appropriate technology to those least served.

            http://cleantechnica.com/2011/11/17/world-bank-bringing-solar-power-to-over-1-million-homes-shops-in-rural-bangladesh/

            Since this was published programs have opened around the world that use similar approaches to give people some solar for less than they would normally pay for kerosene/candles.

            Panels that will last for decades. LEDs that should last for 15-20 years. And hopefully down the road much longer lasting batteries.

          • Peter Gray

            Thanks, Bob. That’s the kind of program I had read a little about and vaguely had in mind. Some NGOs have made similar efforts in Africa, haven’t they?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Africa, Central and South America, South and Southeast Asia, ….

            Popping up all over the place. Don’t have any data on how successful they are but the basic model works great. One of the nice things is that it creates the potential for thousands of small companies as people take this technology far past where the grid reaches.

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