People are more likely to have a mobile phone than access to a proper toilet, yet for many, power cuts and intermittent supply mean they’re often out of reach – until now.
A multinational research team is trialling a solar-powered internet hub that promises to bring web services and e-commerce to some of the world’s most remote locations.
The EU-funded REACH project is running trials of a solar-power-based system that allows people in remote areas to charge their mobile phones and connect to the internet, opening up a world of commercial, healthcare and educational opportunities.
BuffaloGrid, the company behind the REACH project, originally tested a bicycle-based charger in rural Uganda, before moving on to develop and test a solar-powered hub. Now 25 of these are in a trial phase in India, catering to around 50 000 people, and they expect to begin mass production next year.
‘We wanted to create a platform for other companies to reach these people,’ said BuffaloGrid chief executive and co-founder Daniel Becerra.
The hub system can also supply services such as medical information to remote regions, says Becerra, giving the example of a patient five hours away from the nearest hospital who can go into a shop and make virtual contact with a medical professional thousands of miles away and find out whether a hospital trip is necessary. ‘When you create an economy where everybody benefits, that’s the best way to scale.’ Daniel Becerra, Chief Executive, BuffaloGrid
‘When you create an economy where everybody benefits, that’s the best way to scale.’
Daniel Becerra, Chief Executive, BuffaloGrid
‘The best way is by creating business opportunities,’ said Becerra. ‘When you create an economy where everybody benefits, that’s the best way to scale. That income can be used to pay for educational content.’
The estimated cost of deploying a hub is about EUR 480, including import tax and training for the local agent, and the units pay for themselves in around six months. Batteries need replacing every three years and the company, which maintains ownership of the unit, can take care of this.
Another way of protecting against power cuts is to have backup power – often in the form of expensive-to-run diesel generators.
However, emerging fuel cell technology could use hydrogen gas instead to store electricity from solar power until it is needed when the power goes down.
Dr Ilaria Rosso, chief innovation officer at hydrogen electricity specialist Electro Power Systems, believes the system, which has been tested worldwide, could be used to provide cheaper power to telecoms firms in developing countries.
The researchers chose hydrogen fuel cell technology because of its very high level of reliability as well as its environmentally friendly credentials – qualities that could also be useful in developing countries.
‘We have some very important problems of electrification in developing countries,’ said Dr Rosso.
She was coordinator of the FITUP project, which demonstrated some of the technology in Italy, Switzerland and Turkey. The project was funded by the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking, a public-private initiative between the EU and industry.
Since the project ended, Electro Power Systems has been working on scaling it up. Now the company is working on a 25-kilowatt version which could be run in parallel with similar devices to boost power, compared with the 1 to 10 kilowatt models used in the project.
‘Generally speaking the power requirement in off-grid sites is higher,’ said Dr Rosso.
She said that over a period of 25 years the system would cost less than using diesel generators for backup due to the high cost of transporting fuel in developing countries.
‘The final aim is to reduce the electricity bill,' she said.
Moving more goods by water could reduce pressure on roads and cut emissions, yet Europe’s shipping industry is held back by labour shortages. Automated shipping – which would work in a similar way to self-driving cars – could help expand capacity but safety and regulatory hurdles remain.
Eavesdropping on the shudders and groans echoing deep inside alien worlds like Mars and the moon is revealing what lies far beneath their surfaces and could teach us more about how our own planet formed.
More than six months into the coronavirus crisis, data show that not just age, but also biological sex plays a pivotal role in the manifestation and response to Covid-19, with more men dying from acute infections versus women in the short term. This discrepancy has shined a spotlight on a key theme that has gained traction in recent years: is enough being done to account for sex and gender in disease and medicine? Not enough, says Dr Sabine Oertelt-Prigione, the chair of sex and gender-sensitive medicine at Radboud University in the Netherlands and a member of the European Commission’s expert group on gendered innovations.
Earth is not the only place in our solar system that shakes with seismic activity.
Dr Sabine Oertelt-Prigione on a ‘moment of awakening’ for medical research.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.