Living Off the Grid: A Third World Reality.
While going off the grid might be catching up as a fashionable whim in developed countries, it is and has always been a necessity in third world countries. Going off the grid essentially means having a home or an establishment which is not dependent on the government for public utility services such as water, electricity, natural gas, and sewerage. In this regard, third world countries have been suffering for a very long time. They have had to live off indigenously built, low-cost renewable energy generators in their homes, schools, hospitals, and churches where public utility services have yet to become a reality.
It is obvious that public utility infrastructures has yet to reach these villages and even when they do, it will likely be beyond the affordability of the common farmer. No electricity essentially means there are no clinics or hospitals as well. This constant threat endangers the lives of millions. It is for this exact reason that the infant and child mortality rates in these countries are extremely high. In the absence of alternative energy options, with no electricity to power hospitals, the poor people are forced to either visit quacks or wait for a slow and painful death.
Solar energy systems are a boon for such hapless people as it helps in the running of critical structures like hospitals within the range of any village. These solar systems have a service life of more than 30 years and this renewable fuel from the sun comes absolutely free of charge. Although generators run on fossil fuels, oil can be another option. But the rising cost of refined oil in under-developed nations combined with the high cost of transportation from the urban areas have made this option fairly unpopular in cash-starved villages.
It has been proven that the following basic needs of these villages can be met by solar power systems such as:
3. Communication facilities
6. Laundry and sterilization.
Needless to say, the path to setting up these power systems is fraught with problems. Some of them being:
- Requirement of High Initial Capital– Although easier to set up and operate, solar power systems are costly to set up. Nowadays, despite developments in the field, equal amounts of capital are required for the solar panels and their respective batteries. Further advances in the aforementioned technology is being researched to bring about more conversion efficiency and reduce production costs.
- Expensive ancillary costs– The cost of transportation and labor for setting up these generator systems in remote areas also adds to the considerable startup cost.
- Lack of skilled manpower– The irony of being in a third World country where off the grid solar systems are a necessity is that there is a lack of skilled manpower to set up these systems. Most technicians are not trained to set up and handle them.
There are various organizations by both world governments and non-governmental, that are striving to support these third world countries in setting up their own independent power stations.
As an alternative to the more popular solar power, wind energy is gaining popularity. More than 50 percent of the worldwide production of wind power has been produced in Asia and Africa alone. That’s more than half of the estimated 158 gigawatts (GW) produced in 2009. It is estimated that more than 3 million households across the globe get their power from small solar PV systems. There are also many households which are being served by micro-hydro systems that are powered by small scale mini-grids.
It is no wonder that more than 18 per cent of the total electricity generation in the world is through renewable sources and this figure is likely to increase into the near future. Renewable wind and solar power generators are being used more frequently in many developed countries as well. Some promising statistics are as follows:
- 14% of the electricity generated in the state of Iowa is from renewable energy.
- 40% of the electricity generated in the German-state of Schleswig-Holstein is from alternative energy sources.
- Denmark plans to have at least 20% of their total electricity be produced by windmills, solar panels, and other clean energy solutions.
- Almost 100% of the electricity needed in countries such as Paraguay and Iceland are generated from alternative sources such as geothermal energy.
- Norway is run almost entirely on renewable energy (98%), followed by Brazil (86%) and New Zealand (65%).
It is still very common to see vast expanses of villages in Africa and South-east Asia lying in darkness as cheap electricity has yet to reach them. It is in these villages that the latest developments for renewable energy generators are tested as these poor villages need them the most. The benefit to the 1st world is that these advances and experiments will translate into more powerful and efficient wind and solar generators down the road.