New technologies leapfrogging old ones

26 Feb

The African Solar Taxi project provides a perfect demonstration of the way that new technologies can leapfrog old ones, and can provide benefits which the old technologies have failed to provide.

Solar PV leapfrogging grid electricity

Vast numbers of people in Africa live without any form of electricity. No electricity for lights after dark, no electricity to run household appliances or even to charge a mobile phone. Solar PV can change that though, and can bring people in even the most remote parts of Africa into the electrified age, which will bring a multitude of economic, social and health benefits. There’s plenty of sunshine in most parts of Africa!

Whilst we were staying at St Albert’s hospital in Zimbabwe for four days in February 2013, the electrical grid was blacked out for three. The hospital was forced to either make do without any electricity or to run an expensive diesel generator when it needed electricity for emergency surgical procedures. And no matter how often the grid is blacked out, the hospital has to pay the grid company the full monthly fee, regardless. Solar PV could change all of that, and could make great use of the unshaded north-facing roofs of the hospital’s buildings.

Mobile telephony leapfrogging landline telephony

It’s expensive to run copper cable for landline phones, so people in poor regional and remote areas miss out. But mobile telephony is spreading quickly in Africa – even down in the Zambezi Valley. People are quickly entering the age of interconnectedness, which will have a plethora of benefits. The African Solar Taxi will use mobile telephony for vehicle scheduling.

Solar powered electric vehicles leapfrogging petrol powered vehicles

Petrol and diesel are extremely expensive in Africa, and are generally only available in large urban centres. As petroleum products become scarce, poor countries will have to compete with rich countries for petroleum supplies, which isn’t going to end well. Electric vehicles powered by solar PV panels will change all that, and will offer simple and effective transportation which is much better than the alternatives of walking large distances, using ox carts or paying expensive private transport operators.

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