Image by blitzmaerker via Flickr, November 29, 2010, by Terry Waghorn  —  Micro solutions hold the answer to sustainability in developing countries. Advanced infrastructure often taken for granted in the developed world does not exist in many of these countries. This means sustainability innovations must include what isn’t available in these regions must make use of what little is available.

One way this is being accomplished is through txteagle, which uses the mobile phone phenomenon to provide micro-work for people in developing countries. Only 18% of people in the developing world have access to the internet, but more than 50% owned a mobile phone at the end of 2009.

Txteagle, started by Nathan Eagle a research scientist with MIT, distributes small jobs via text messaging in return for small payments. These jobs often involve local knowledge and range from things like checking what street signs say for a satellite-navigation service, to translating words into local dialects for companies trying to spread their marketing.

Meanwhile, others are tackling one of the biggest problems in the developing world’s rural areas – the lack of an electrical grid to provide lighting. In many areas, highly polluting kerosene is burned to generate light, contributing significantly to the earth’s carbon dioxide levels.

For example, the Lumina Project, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Energy, and Lighting Africa conducted tests using solar LED lighting in a broiler chicken operation at an off-grid farm in Kenya. The test achieved lower operating costs, produced substantially more light, improved the working environment and had no adverse effect on yields.

Providing light with the solar LED systems is far more economical than connecting to a grid, the cost of which was estimated at 1.7 million Kenya Schillings (about 21,350 USD). This is about 35 times the cost of the LED system. Furthermore, switching to the LED system avoids over one metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions per (broiler) house on an annual basis compared to kerosene.

There is potential for replication of this particular LED lighting strategy in the developing world. But there is also potential for non-industrial use. Solar LED could help produce much-needed light for millions of people in the developing world who do not have access to traditional electrical grids.

Australian company Barefoot Power uses this simple post-industrial technology to bring alternatives to fuel-consuming appliances, specifically lights, to poverty stricken areas. This reduces the drain on the very limited money impoverished individuals have.

More than $10 billion is spent each year on kerosene for lighting in the homes of the poor in developing countries. Barefoot Power provides LED lights driven by fuel cells that collect solar power to help poor families stop spending their scarce cash by giving them a better and cheaper option.

Carbon emissions from burning kerosene are also heavily cut. Kerosene consumption for lighting is equal to 1.7 million barrels of oil per day, which is greater than the annual oil production of Libya. The Lawrence Berkley Laboratories state that the “single greatest way to reduce the green house gas emissions associated with lighting energy use is to replace kerosene lamps with white LED light systems in developing countries.”


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