This is about trying to take control of how our lives are wired. In these backlands of northern Guatemala, you can actually see where the energy grid stops. The power line runs by the road until, suddenly, it just doesn’t and, out past this point, people’s homes work without the modern conveniences that most urbanites take for granted. So it may be easy to look at this family’s homestead and think it’s a picture of past except for one small thing that little square on the roof there? It actually may be a window into the future of powering homes, no matter where you live.
The price of a solar panel has fallen 80 percent in the last decade, to the point where now, around much of the world, it’s the cheapest way to generate energy. This family’s solar panel powers a cell phone charger, a TV, and, most important, lights at night for the kids. A few years ago, a company called Kingo started giving out solar panels, batteries, and bulbs in rural Guatemala. They make money on how much power people use, billing them on a model similar to pre-paid cell phones. Kingo does not compete against the grid. We compete against candles, kerosene, diesel.
Basic Unit Costs
Our most basic unit costs around 9 dollars a month. That’s around half of what candles cost. We envision these communities leapfrogging the traditional grid. In rural Africa, there’s not a telephone pole to be seen, because everybody, their first phone was a cell phone, and it just went right over all that. Much more importantly, the same thing now seems to be happening with energy. The impact of this growing energy source won’t just be felt in rural areas off the grid. There are likely to be changed in store for places like the United States, where the grid is so omnipresent, it’s taken for granted. Even though it’s impacting us every day, it’s invisible to us.
No one knows, or hears, how much energy they’re using. I can say, oh, the average household in the US uses 30-kilowatt hours per day, but it’s fairly meaningless and because you don’t see it, and because you don’t hear it, it’s really easy to just use it. You’ve got a socket on the wall, and that’s where electricity comes from. But, of course, that’s not where electricity comes from. It comes from going someplace, and blowing the top off a mountain, and collecting the coal, and taking it to a big, huge power plant, and burning it in a huge boiler, and then taking the power that comes out, and running it over hundreds of miles of power line, and it’s all of that to accomplish, I don’t know, drying your clothes and it’s an important thing to pay attention to.
Greatest Engineering Achievement
Energy is central to everything that we do, right? The electric grid was called the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th century. It has these tendrils that just penetrate everything in our world. There are all these power plants, and all these wires, and all these poles, and all these people, and all these cell phones getting charged, that are all actually, in fact, part of the same machine. As more and more of us have hooked into this vast machine, it’s beginning to feel the strain of age.
At the same time, the interconnected grids face mounting security risks from hackers and terrorists, not to mention, increasingly extreme weather. You don’t trust the big entity to function the way it should, because it doesn’t. Even in places where utilities are working relatively well, there’s still power outages all the time and even when it is working, this vast machine takes a tremendous amount of fossil fuel to keep going. All that fossil fuel started creating other problems. It’s not a workable system, in the long run, if it melts your icecaps as part of its function.