The Grameen Bank organization, which gained visibility with the Grameen Phone project, is expanding into the provision of electricity and water using the same village entrepreneurial model. Created by inventor Dean Kamen, the village power and village water devices will be low-cost, low-maintenance, low-complexity methods of providing critical utilities to people in the developing world.
The electric generator is powered by an easily-obtained local fuel: cow dung. Each machine continuously outputs a kilowatt of electricity. That may not sound like much, but it is enough to light 70 energy-efficient bulbs. As Kamen puts it, "If you judiciously use a kilowatt, each villager can have a nighttime." [...]
The Slingshot [water purifier] works by taking in contaminated water – even raw sewage -- and separating out the clean water by vaporizing it. It then shoots the remaining sludge back out a plastic tube. Kamen thinks it could be paired with the power machine and run off the other machine's waste heat.
Compared to building big power and water plants, Kamen's approach has the virtue of simplicity. He even created an instruction sheet to go with each Slingshot. It contains one step: Just add water, any water.
We first noted the village power project last July, and Technology Review detailed both the generator and water purifier in October. Yesterday's CNN report doesn't break a lot of new ground on the story, but is getting a lot of attention -- and for a subject like this, attention can be the difference between success and failure.
(Thanks to Tim Du Toit, Rektide, Ryan Sims, and Chris Albon for all -- independently -- sending in this story.)
(Feb 27: This story has been updated with correct information on which Grameen organization is behind this project, along with the correct link. The water/power initiative is through Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, not the Grameen Foundation.)
Interesting that there has been little commentary on the demand-side element of this type of technology -- that is, do people in rural communities want light bulbs and clean water, and are they willing to pay, even a little bit, to get access to those services? Some interesting discussion points are at:
There is a considerable range of technology available for water purification, including filters and ultra-violet purification. This technology does not sound exceptional, unless it is very cheap. The key questions relate to how rural or slum communities can organize to introduce the technology and where the water comes from. Grameen's phone worked partly because it was self-funding and did not require collective action. This story does not tell us if they have a similar individual and entrepreneurial model for the water technology.
I think there is demand. See for example
"...Two billion people, roughly 30 percent of the world population, are off the energy grid, living in areas without utility services. And a billion of them have the means to pay for power, said Prof. Daniel M. Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley.
"According to solar industry vendors and analysts, many of these billion people spend $5 to $10 a month on kerosene, almost exclusively for lights. ..."