In 1882 Thomas Edison opened the world’s first commercial central power station in lower Manhattan, serving a one-quarter square mile area, and launching urban electrification. 135-years later, billions of people are still living without access to electricity. But this doesn’t need to be the case.
Despite the availability of technical solutions 1.2 billion people, equivalent to 16 per cent of the global population, are still without any form of electricity and 3 billion people still cook over open fires. More than 95 per cent of those living without electricity are in sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia, 80 per cent of which live in rural areas. Because much of the world’s energy poor live in remote, low-density, rural areas, it simply isn’t viable to run centralised electricity grids over these distances. However, the Internet of Things (IoT), in combination with advances in clean technologies, is helping off-grid communities gain access to energy, which is helping change lives.
The United Nations Foundation has even stated that “energy powers the world’s economic engine,” adding that, “from the perspective of jobs, security, climate change, food production or increasing incomes, access to sustainable energy for all is essential for strengthening economies, protecting ecosystems and achieving equity.”
Having access to sustainable energy can help improve people’s health and wellbeing, give them better access to education, and empowers people to set up their own businesses. It also gives people access to home comforts that many take for granted – a television, a refrigerator, the ability to charge up a mobile phone or laptop.
Previously people living in these rural communities would only be able to access energy through purchasing kerosene or batteries. However, through innovations such as IoT enabled solar-powered devices, off-grid communities can now access reliable energy on a constant basis.
For example, there are devices that sit in a person’s home and allow users to power small appliances, from lights and mobile phones, to fridges and computers. These types of solar devices need to be backed by IoT because, without the ability to remotely monitor devices, an engineer would need to be sent to these rural, and often hard to reach, locations to help maintain the product and, due to the length of time this would take, this simply would not be feasible. IoT also enables businesses to gather real-time data, analyse it and then configure and adapt each system to extend the life of the battery.
IoT is helping people in rural communities climb the energy ladder and is enabling some of the most marginalised people in society get access to electricity for the first time. I believe IoT is facilitating a real and viable solution to the energy needs of these off-grid communities, and is helping create employment and education opportunities for people living in these parts of the world. By having access to reliable electricity these communities will become economically stronger, and as their economy strengthens their demand for energy will also increase, therefore creating an exponential demand for IoT enabled solar-powered solutions.
These types of inexpensive and quickly deployable devices offer a real chance to empower communities across the world and going forward I believe that the use of such solutions will be supported by governments and NGOs globally.