Monday, April 10, 2006

Power to the People

The man, Iqbal Quadir, who brought cellphones into Bangledesh's microlending bank Grameen is back with a new idea to bring electrical power to the poor.

The aim of his new venture, Emergence Energy, is to establish small, neighbourhood power plants in Bangladesh that can provide electricity to a handful of homes, shops and businesses. This time he has teamed up with Dean Kamen, an American inventor best known for creating the Segway electric scooter. During 2005 they conducted a six-month trial in two rural villages in Bangladesh of prototype generators, created by Mr Kamen, based on a design called a Stirling engine.

The generators can be powered by biogas extracted from cow manure. The idea is that one entrepreneur, funded by a microcredit loan, sets up a business to turn manure into methane gas and fertiliser; another entrepreneur, also funded by microcredit, buys the methane to power the generator, and sells the resulting electricity. This will, Mr Quadir hopes, unleash all kinds of economic activity. “Energy gives you the power to empower,” he says.

The trial was intended as a test, to find out what people would use electricity for, and whether there was an economically viable business model. The results were promising: the scheme proved to be technically feasible, there was strong demand for electrical power, and consumers were willing to pay for a regular supply. The main use of electricity was for lighting, says Mr Quadir; using low-power bulbs, each generator, which produces one kilowatt of power, was able to light up 20 households or shops.
I like this idea. I have always been a fan of Grameen Bank, and this looks like it follows many of the same principles. The whole article is good, give it a read.


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