Sunday, May 11, 2008

At The Intersection Of Hopes And Success

The single greatest challenge in solving world poverty is getting cheap electricity to communities that are far off the grid, who are not fortunate enough to live in a society where the government will subsidize the extension of the grid to these communities, often hundreds of miles from civilization.

See, conservatives? Big government gets the job done!

Here, however, is an amazingly simple yet practical solution for at least some of the world's poor:
Unleash the Power For the People Foundation is a charitable organization that raises money for the purpose of enabling people to help those that are truly impoverished in the world. Channeling the power of people to provide power for people.
Corp-speak for "We'll help poor people generate their own electricity, which will drive machines which will provide a living, which will help lift them out of poverty."

Portable solar panels with DC/AC transformers built-on, windmills, and other renewable energy sources will be provided to communities (the rough nut to provide is about $20,000 per every 50 people in a community, so we're talking lunch money for the Iraq invasion forces for one day to provide millions of people with free energy). The primary goal will be to bring fresh drinking water to these communities: these power sources will drive pumps and desalinization plants.

America is fairly unique in that the richest among us live nearest the shore. This is not the case in less developed nations.

With water comes sanitation, cleaner food, fresher food, better health. As the community strengthens, excess capacity (and there will be plenty) can be diverted to wiring for lighting, computers, and other machinery that will allow the citizens access to information and markets.

With renewable energy comes a cleaner environment, less carbon release, healthier people who live longer and are more productive and able to provide for themselves and their families.

But there's a deeper issue here, one that can be extended to even a nation as powerful and wealthy as America: distributive power generation.

The fatal flaw in the US grid is, unlike the Internet, electricity is interdependent on every other node in the grid: if one goes, likely many will go before the drainage can stop, and it requires hands-on rejiggering to reroute around a trouble spot.

Think of a big city traffic jam: that's the model the electrical grid works on.

By pushing power generation down to the community level, you're giving local populations an option: generate as much power as you can, and take from the grid what you need beyond that. Should your generator go down, the grid is your backup.

Should the grid go down, all you need to do is to power down nonessential uses until it comes back up.

Too, you'd be cutting the costs of electrical generation substantially, as well as providing jobs as diverse as wiring to the new generator (and maintaining that wiring locally) to economic development of this new resource.

Who said going green would kill the American economy? If anything, it brings money back to the people.

Which brings us back to

One thing poor people around the world have in common is a lack of access to power, and by that I mean, political. It's easy to overlook people who have no voice, who cannot contact the people who nominally represent them. By providing them with electrical power, you provide them with a voice, an economy, and a say in what directly affects them.

Look at Myanmar, for example. Even before the cyclone, we heard stories about the terrible regime there, Aung San Suu Kyi's imprisonment, the Buddhist uprising.

Why? Because there was access to the rest of the world, through the media and the Internet.

Imagine how much faster the world could have responded to Darfur if this program had been in place when the crisis was just beginning? Imagine if images of the Janjaweed's rapes and murders had been posted by someone with a videocamera (provided by Peter Gabriel's charity, Witness) had documented and uploaded video in real time?

Imagine. Just imagine. And all that, just from a few solar panels or wind turbines...