I had an interesting conversation today with Roberto Bocca and Busba Wongnapapisan of the Forum’s Energy Industry team that highlighted the enabling role the energy sector plays in overall development. Reliable power supply is critical to the delivery of programmes and projects involving technology (as well others that are not necessarily technology-based).
For well over a decade now, I have been involved in various projects around the Asia-Pacific region that have deployed communications and information technology infrastructure. Some of these have been in highly developed environments, where a stable power grid was a given, and some have been in environments where a couple of hours of stable utility power supply per day was a luxury.
For the latter, much consideration needed to be given to ensuring that the systems were able to be kept up and running through the use of alternative power systems – be it banks of batteries or through solar energy or other means. Only when the systems are up and running, and doing what they are supposed to be doing, do the benefits come about – whether in productivity or education or management information systems, and so on.
In the more recent past, I have been involved in a project that deploys community wireless networks in rural locations in South Asia. The objective is holistic community empowerment – in other words, it is not deploying technology for the sake of it, but looking at how the introduction of the Internet and IT technologies can help a rural community improve the overall socio-economic environment.
All locations are rural and typically somewhat isolated. Though they also have some unique challenges, one common issue is the availability of stable, continuous utility power supply. Often, there is a need to resort to backup systems – be it battery or generators – and these come at a cost upfront as well as at costs in maintaining and operating them.
As we continue working towards connecting the world’s unconnected, the availability of stable power supply systems will be a critical component for success – particularly in rural and underserved environments.
Yes, the mobile platform is a solution for access in such communities, but mobile phones still need some form of power supply to charge them, and the base stations that connect the mobile phones also need stable power supply. And it is not just phones; we want these communities to also be able to enjoy other bits and pieces that make life easier – from the humble light bulb so that children can study at night, to a fridge that keeps food from spoiling, to a TV, for example – and all these need power.
I think there is also a business opportunity here – perhaps more of a social enterprise opportunity – but it needs a bit of thought and a bit of innovation to structure a solution for the bottom of the pyramid – and a solution that the bottom of the pyramid can readily afford.
I look forward to exploring, with my colleagues at the Forum, ways and means in which we can collaborate and corroborate so that the next billions can come online – and stay online – all throughout the day (and night!).
Author: Rajnesh Singh is Regional Director, Asia-Pacific at the Internet Society, where he oversees projects, initiatives and activities in the region, including Public Policy, Capacity Building and Internet Standards and Technology.
Pictured: A labourer installs power cables at the construction site of the Beijing-Tianjin high-speed passenger rail line in Tianjin municipality. REUTERS/Vincent Du