Oct 17, 2009

Small solar solutions for the Third World

The advantage of the accessibility to the sun and small solar powered gadgets give many in the world an experience those in the first world take for granted.

Selections from this Reuters article speak to this solar solution

So when (Uganda Telecom) brought out the solar phones, since I got it, that very day, I have never had any problem with my phone," said Mawa, clutching the

It might not sound like much but for Mawa and millions of people in Africa and Asia, with no connection to electricity grids or unreliable and expensive power access, these little solar-powered gadgets are proving to be revolutionary.

Farmers can check market prices before deciding which crop seeds to sow, speak to buyers from their fields and get weather forecasts. And unlike with standard mobile phones, they don't have to worry about their phone battery losing power.

Solar cell phones could build on the economic advantages that mobile phones have already brought to far-flung regions of Africa and the Indian subcontinent, including price transparency and more accurate and timely information.

Mobile phone penetration in these regions has been held back by a lack of electricity: there is simply no way to charge a cell phone in many rural areas of developing countries.

An estimated 1.6 billion people have no access to electricity at all, while another 1 billion people have no electricity for much of the day, according to estimates by development groups.

Fortuitously, perhaps, most of these people live in sunny climates. And this is where solar mobile phones come in................

Take Uganda as a case in point: Just eight percent of the country's 32 million plus population have electric grid access.....

Until solar cell phones were introduced, charging a phone in remote areas, off the electricity grid, entailed a bone-jarring journey to the nearest town, where the phone battery could be charged at kiosks run on generators for relatively hefty fees.

The journey might take all day and the battery charge fee might cost more than that day's lost wages....

Across the ocean, in India's remote Orissa state, farmers living off the power grid are generating electricity with solar power which is making inroads in rural India and Bangladesh. For them, solar-powered cell phones are a natural extension.

The potential in rural India for cell phone makers and operators is huge. Consider this: India had nearly 500 million wireless users, and some 10 million new users are signing up each month. That doesn't count the millions in India's remote villages where electricity is rare or non-existent....

Solar phones are not new: The top phone maker Nokia sold a model a dozen years ago, but with technology development their usability and prices are starting to reach masses....

With proper positioning and pricing, solar-powered cell phones could reach about two billion people across the globe who have no access to electricity. Aside from the commercial opportunities, there are very real economic benefits.

"Nowadays, farmers use mobile phones to know about the market situation ... so that the middlemen cannot exploit them and this is happening in Bangladesh, this is happening in Uganda, this is also happening in India," said Abdul Bayes, an economics professor from Bangladesh's Jahangirnagar University.

Bayes, who has studied the impact of mobile phones on developing economies, estimates that GDP increases by one or two percent for every 10 percent increase in mobile phone access.

Savings, he said, come not just with improved market knowledge but by increasing productivity as farmers can call for information rather than leave their fields to travel to the city to speak to buyers and suppliers.....

Sony Ericsson and Nokia are rolling out phones with greener features such as lower energy consumption, use of recycled materials, smaller packages and electronic user manuals.

from reuters.com 10-14-09

By Hereward Holland and Leonora Walet



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