From void into vision, from vision to mind, from mind into speech, from speech to the tribe, from the tribe into din.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Small Scale LED Lighting + Off-Grid Cell Phone Charging in Mali

Matt Berg currently serves as the Information Communications Technology (ICT) Coordinator for the Millennium Villages Project based out of the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York City and prior to that, was the director of the Geekcorps Mali program in Bamako, Mali.

Inspired by Jan Chipchase, I put together the following photo montage [pdf alert] covering the ever increasing number of cheap Chinese LED lights that are transforming the way people access lighting. There are a lot of amazing NGOs doing work to address the issue of rural household lighting but I think they are at best a fill-gap to an existing market gap. The mass market solution (LED + small rechargeable battery + 1 W solar panel) that will really make a difference will be Chinese and at a price that will encourage extremely fast adoption rates. This is evident from the introduction of LED flashlights in Mali that completely took over the market in less than six months.

I also document the common way most cell phone charging is done in an off-grid environment. While it may not the be the most power efficient or battery safe method it works and is both cheap to the supplier and consumer. Used car batteries you can see are the 'power lines' in a lot of African villages that form the basis of distributed power distribution.

More at

Matt Berg is exactly right. LED light, battery, and small solar packages will hit the market within a year or two. LED lights and cell phones bring most if not all of the world's population into the electric (and communication) network. They can also be charged with a hand crank or bicycle generator. Extra 6 volt motorcycle and 12 volt car batteries can be charged in the course of driving a car or truck. Minimum "clean" electricity is affordably feasible in the world today, if only we realize it.

I wish the US government noticed. By my count, there have been over 700,000 solar/dynamo am/fm/sw radios distributed in Afghanistan by US and NATO forces since before our 2001 invasion. None of them can charge a cell phone or a standard size battery as currently configured. US AID is sending 16,000 solar/dynamo radios to the Sudan this year and plans to send 250,000 over the next few years as part of a nation-building program. None of them, so far, will charge a cell phone or an extra battery. All of them could.

These techniques can also be useful when the grid goes down, which is one reason why I say:

Solar IS Civil Defense

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