Tune in, turn on…
Back in the 1980s “appropriate technology” for the developing world was usually ‘lower tech.’ But cheap electronics – phones, computers and the Internet – have really changed a lot of things. Now, things like phones are everywhere – especially remarkable in in countries that never had land-line phone networks because of lack of infrastructure. Now, nurses in rural clinics perform continuing education exercises using DVDs and laptops , community health workers in rural communities send images of what they’re seeing to doctors in the central city, and docs in developing countries beam x-rays to specialists for consultation.
One thing that doesn’t get mentioned, however, is how much load those electronic devices place on power grids that aren’t that competent. More load on the grid means more probability of fluctuations in power and blackouts. It’s indicative of a phenomenon called “energy poverty” that’s starting to get attention.
Research shows energy poverty is a growing problem worldwide. The US Energy Information Administration estimates energy consumption in South America, Africa, and the Middle East will grow 60 percent above existing levels by 2030.
That’s some of what the kids from Engineering World Health learn when they travel to other countries.
You can listen to today’s story here:
James Molini and Adam Kurzrok both talked about being ‘shocked’ (they weren’t being pun-ny either) when they arrived in Tanzanian hospitals to find almost daily power outages. They say that’s a big reason much of the equipment they encountered was broken – essentially circuits or components had been fried by bad power supply. And although all the hospitals had generators, fuel was often too expensive. So they came up with the idea for the Cell Saver – and they got help from Chris Hamman and Pat Caputo.
So, their idea for creating back up power is pretty simple, and not particularly novel. My electrical engineer husband – who’s also a ham radio operator – tells me that hams rig up back up power supplies for their radios all the time (especially when they want to go broadcast from obscure places ).
So, what’s so different about this device that isn’t already out there on the market in the form of a commercial UPS – an uninterruptible power supply?
UPS’s tend to be pricey – about $75. Molini and Kurzrok, et al, intend to sell their device for about $12-15
UPS’s tend to be for short term power outages, or would be used to successfully close down your computers, etc, and then be turned off within a few minutes – the intention of the Cell Saver is to power machines for an hour or more, so that surgeries can be completed, for example.
Use of recyclables
That recycled thing is key. A 12 V lead-acid batteries can be recycled if they’re not completely depleted and the lead plates inside are not completely eaten by the acid. Plus, you hook them up together and you can get extra power (just the say way you use more than one AA battery to power a hand-held radio). If you’re in a place with plenty of lead-acid batteries in the waste stream – you’re in business.
The idea was cool enough to win the guys second place in the Dell Social Innovation Competition. Here’s the website for the competition.
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