Q Millions of people relying on biomass Figure Millions without electricity and relying on biomass for cooking

homes and small enterprises in the village, and diesel fuel is brought in the usually long distances to power a generator at fixed times each day. Not surprisingly, due to the remote location of these systems, the electricity provided tends to be both unreliable and expensive, and thus it has not provided an ultimate solution for emerging market governments in their campaigns to bring electric power to their citizenry.7

Of course, in the absence of a solution from their government, people don't just give up and sit around in the darkness without any entertainment or other comforts:

The world outside the electricity grid is far from one of passive energy deprivation. There is rather a complex and dynamic evolution of energy demands with time, economic development, fashion and rising aspirations. These demands are met by local entrepreneurs and traders, responding often with considerable ingenuity and initiative to the changes taking place in the energy market.8

In almost every unelectrified village you can find a local trade in kerosene and kerosene lanterns for lighting, car batteries and battery-charging stations for black and white TV, dry cell batteries for radios, and, for the few who can afford it, diesel fuel and diesel generator sets for powering most modern

Figure 1.3 Transporting a battery to nearest grid point for charging
Figure 1.4 Typical battery-charging station in village

appliances. Travelling around these areas you will often see someone carrying home a bottle of kerosene from the local shop, or a battery strapped to the back of a bicycle, being rolled to the nearest charging station several kilometres away. People want the benefits that electricity can bring and will go out of their way, and spend relatively large amounts of their income, to get it.

While we can admire the resilience and resourcefulness of local populations in the face of no electricity, the fact is the products they are forced to use remain far from ideal. Kerosene, for example, brings with it a severe fire risk. It is so easy for a kerosene lantern to be knocked over and burn down the entire house of an already poor family. It also produces a dim light, making it hard to do schoolwork or housework at night, and, of course, it produces noxious fumes. Combine this with the inconvenience of having to go to buy the fuel, store the fuel and light the fuel, and you have a pretty unpopular product.

Figure 1.5 Different types of kerosene lantern: (a) wick lantern, (b) hurricane lantern,

(c) Petromax lantern

Figure 1.5 Different types of kerosene lantern: (a) wick lantern, (b) hurricane lantern,

(c) Petromax lantern

Figure 1.6 The process of lighting a Petromax lantern

Equally, there is no great love for diesel generators. In the absence of a reliable electricity grid, generators are being bought in ever-increasing numbers in emerging markets.9 But generators create noise and air pollution, and also entail certain fire risks. Not to mention the hassle of procuring the fuel, storing the fuel, pouring the fuel and maintaining the generator set, which, because it has many moving parts, needs regular upkeep. And this says nothing about the lifetime costs of running one, since diesel fuel always costs more in rural areas than in the cities, and generally goes up in price, not down.

Figure 1.7 A typical diesel generator

Without an electricity grid and with a choice of pretty unpopular options, it is not surprising that solar technology has entered the rural energy mix.10 Solar technology makes use of a resource - sunlight - that is truly everywhere, so it can produce electricity without transporting fuels, such as kerosene or diesel, to site. Moreover, it offers electricity, and light, at the flip of a switch, entails relatively little maintenance, has no harmful emissions and, once paid for, does not have much in the way of recurring costs. We can easily see why people had high hopes for this technology when it was first introduced into emerging markets.

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