Silicon Valley & Global Energy Poverty
Over one billion people around the world do not have reliable access to electricity. Furthermore, 2.6 billion people are reliant upon biomass to cook, which causes harmful indoor pollution. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately four million people die each year due to habitual inhalation from these toxins.

The Silicon Valley is at the apex of technological achievement and is inhabited by some of the brightest and most creative minds on the planet. There has been a mounting international appeal to Silicon Valley to use their intellectual tech brilliance for philanthropic efforts.

There has been criticism for focusing on solutions to micro problems that intend to only service the individual, as opposed to global humanitarian issues. Responsibility, however, cannot rest solely with the entrepreneurs themselves. Widespread global issues do not always necessarily lend themselves to the venture capitalist system.

Tech entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa notes this struggle: “Investors believe that the quickest hits come from building apps or games that go viral, or from creating websites that automate business processes. This was surely the case in the social-media era, when even children who had not completed their college education could write apps. But we’ve built enough messaging and photo-sharing apps, and have bigger opportunities now. It is possible for the young and the old to solve real problems, to great effect.”

Continents like Africa, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa, have limited access to electricity and are being viewed as a possible new frontier for tech consumption. In some parts of the continent, Africans walk miles to the nearest power grid just for a cell phone charger. Even then, because of the demand, it can take hours and it is expensive. For this reason, solar energy has recently seen a boom in usage particularly by telecom companies being funded by tech investors. The rationale is that broadening electrical access across the continent will hopefully cause a surge in mobile phone usage.

Tesla has created a Powerwall home storage 10kwh battery that is capable of powering 1,000 watts of current for 10 hours. In comparison, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates the average American household uses 1,200 watts, 24 hours per day. The battery is capable of recharging via solar or wind energy. The only downside is that the battery unit costs $4,000, which does not include installation. The average per capita income in Sub-Saharan Africa is well below $3,000, making the unit well out of most price ranges.

Nonetheless, the Powerwall home storage stands as a promising, albeit a rudimentary example of Silicon Valley creativity and ingenuity being applied for a global purpose.

The Borgen Project

Sources: National Geographic, Huffington Post, Wadhwa, Forbes
Photo: Silicon Beat

As we burn up some of our nonrenewable resources, we face a grim ultimatum: continue using the same resources until we’ve depleted them all (which could have catastrophic consequences) or find a way that everyone on Earth can benefit from electricity without burning our nonrenewable resources. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors, is trying to find a way to solve this and he has recently created a battery that may do just that.

Powerwall is a home battery that uses solar power in order to provide the battery with a charge. The battery is capable of powering an entire house when utilities are low. When a storm comes rolling into town and knocks the power out, the Powerwall is capable of providing the emergency power.

The compact design of the battery allows you to mount it on any wall that is desired; it is also an aesthetically pleasing piece of equipment. The entire system that collects and distributes electricity through the Powerwall is relatively simple. There are three essential parts:the Solar Panel, the Home Battery (Powerwall) and the Inverter.

The solar panel, which is installed on the roof, collects and converts sunlight into electricity. That surplus electricity is stored in the Powerwall during the day or even when the rates of the utility grid are low. The Inverter converts the electricity from DC to AC. AC is the type of electricity used for household electronics.

Building an invention as groundbreaking as this has many benefits. The battery can provide financial savings to its owner by charging during low rate periods when demand for electricity is lower, and, conversely, discharging when the rates are high. Owning a Powerwall also increases the consumption of solar power generation, which is one of the cleanest, renewable energy sources around. This allows for reduced CO2 emissions.

As this technology progresses, it can be used to address poverty and help provide electricity to areas that aren’t near power plants. Once there is a way to produce these types of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries cheaply, then we will be able to see them popping up in developing, remote areas, such as sub-Saharan Africa. The U.S. Congress has made bringing electricity to remote areas in Africa a major goal. The U.S. Agency for International Development is headlining that mission under the Electrify Africa Act.

The Powerwall is considered the automobile of its industry; it is pioneering technology. Once there are even better ways to produce the Powerwall, the technology will become more accessible. Once more accessible, more people will be able to utilize renewable energy. This is the underlying purpose of this technology; to reduce the amount of nonrenewable energy used by burning fossil fuels by providing a renewable alternative.

Erik Nelson

Sources: Congress, Tesla Motors 1, Tesla Motors 2
Photo: Wired