About 1.2 billion people, or 17% of the world’s population, don’t have access to electricity. Most of them live in rural parts of Africa and southern Asia. One of the UN Sustainable Development goals is that everyone should have access to electricity. Once communities have electricity literacy rates tend to increase, new businesses spring up and gradually people become a little better off so other aspects of poverty can be more easily remedied. Solar panels, batteries and a range of other Cleantech innovations are bringing electricity to these people in new ways that are less polluting and cheaper than traditional power stations and electricity grids.
One excellent example of this process is MeshPower, a small UK company started in 2012 by students from Imperial Collage in London. MeshPower connect whole communities, rather than just single properties, to their bespoke nanogrids, and they sell electricity rather than solar panels, batteries or other expensive equipment, so members of the community can just pay for exactly the amount of electricity they use. MeshPower use solar panels connected to a single battery base-station, located in the centre of a village and with a nanogrid system of cables connecting about 50 to 100 houses, usually within a 200 metre radius, to this battery. A low voltage DC system is used with USB ports instead of normal plugs and sockets. This is very much safer and also extremely energy efficient and perfect for LED lighting and mobile phone chargers, but also suitable for televisions and many other devices. Each nanogrid, and each household’s energy use, can be monitored remotely via the internet, so problems can be rapidly fixed and the whole system tweaked to improve performance.
MeshPower have their headquarters in the Imperial Collage Incubator in London and are working with communities in Bugesera District in southern Rwanda. In June 2016 they connected their 1,000th customer, and by the end of 2016 are planning to have 10,000 customers connected. Currently they employ 25 people in Rwanda, but envisage this figure to have grown to 40 in a few months. In 2014 I blogged about Solar Aid, an excellent charity come business that has now sold its one millionth solar powered light in Africa. I think MeshPower may have an even better solution than Solar Aid, and together they show that dirty old kerosene lamps will soon be consigned to history. Here is yet another aspect of the transition out of ‘The Fossil-Fuel Age’ and into ‘The Solar Age’.