As a rural American, it’s easy for me to forget how good I personally have it. I’ve got 24/7 access to electricity, internet, and wireless service unless I go deep in the desert or far out in the woods. Even then, we’ve got amateur radio, satellite phones, and portable solar generators to give us the comforts of civilization no matter how far out we go. But, all of this requires money, and rural people in developing countries just don’t have the money for all this.
In the rural parts of the poorest countries, electricity is scarce. If you need it for something, you might be able to use a diesel-powered generator part-time. Or, if you don’t want to pay the fuel bill and put up with the stink, a tiny solar power system might charge phones and a computer for part of the day, and give you some light in the evening if you’re lucky. After dark, and after the used car battery runs out of charge, you can use a kerosene lamp.
But refrigerators, air conditioners, microwave ovens, and other appliances we take for granted? Yeah, forget about it. Unless you want to pay the big bucks for more fuel, a better generator, or a larger solar array, you can’t run appliances 24/7 or add vital work machinery the way people on a power grid can.
This is something Husk Power Systems is trying to change. The company is putting in the power systems, and then charging local people only for the energy they use so they don’t have to come up with the money up front. The smart metering system works with a mobile app, allowing people to have control over their power usage, instead of a surprise bill later.
Here’s a video showing how the company’s first hybrid gasification (biogas) and solar-battery system worked:
While gasification sounds bad on the surface, it’s carbon neutral if you feed it with biomass like Husk does. The amount of carbon introduced into the atmosphere is generally very close to what the plants pulled from the atmosphere, and the plants would have likely put the carbon back into the atmosphere via decomposition in most cases. This, of course doesn’t apply to the burning or processing of all biomass, but agricultural biomass was never going to be permanent the way, say, a forest would have been were it left alone.
Many People In The Developing World May Skip Fossil Electricity Entirely
While there is some skepticism of the concept, the concept of “leapfrogging” is very real, even if not perfect. The adoption of cellular phones came before landline telephones in many developing countries, as it was the first phone available at all. Husk’s hybrid biomass-solar-storage systems are a good example of this. Instead of getting power from a coal-fired power plant, the most rural and power-starved people in the developing world may be able to skip right ahead to renewables.
The best thing about this is that as the developing world demands better standards of living, they won’t necessarily have to go through a cycle of heavy polluting and greenhouse gas emissions to get there. If we can help that to happen, we can all win.
Featured image by US Department of Defense (Public Domain)