Taking on the Bill Gates Challenge

African Village with telecoms tower

Taking on the Bill Gates Challenge

1080 827 Harry Corrigan

Innovative solutions for developing communities.

In his book “How to Avoid A Climate Disaster” Microsoft founder Bill Gates advances the idea that all people around the world have the right to electricity. Energy he argues is the driver of development in the modern world. He illustrates this with a compelling chart from the World Bank showing how energy consumption and income go hand in hand.

Reliable electricity means light at night, light that could for example help a student study and improve their life chances. It means warmth in winter and something to cook on that isn’t reliant on depleting stocks of timber. And it means being able to power cell phones that are the real drivers for change in developing communities.

Transforming Africa
Cell phone penetration in sub-Saharan Africa is now massive, in fact much of Africa, especially rural areas completely skipped the landline stage. According to the GSMA there will be 615million cell phone subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa by 2025. It is without a doubt a massive market and represents a compelling opportunity for telecoms companies.

The Development & Energy Supply Contradiction
However, there is a contradiction at the heart of the idea of powering development by producing more energy, because generating more energy from traditional fossil fuel sources will adversely affect citizens of developing nations far more than those in the west.

Climate change is already creating a crisis for communities across the developing world especially in rural areas where both increased droughts and floods are a direct result of the crisis. So the idea of pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere to aid development doesn’t sit easily with the challenge of avoiding a climate disaster.

Empowering Audacious Change
What Gates is proposing therefore is quite audacious.

“The world needs to provide more energy so the poorest can thrive, but we need to provide that energy without releasing any more greenhouse gases.” Bill Gates

His solution is to develop, to invest in and to encourage others to develop energy producing technologies that have zero carbon emissions. He argues that only by reaching a point of zero emissions will we avoid a global catastrophe.

While what he has to say is controversial and there will be plenty who argue about the numbers and the effects of climate change, what is true is that his intervention has stimulated novel developments in energy production.

Innovative Small Scale Net-Zero Solutions
This is where the innovation from Solar Botanic comes in. A potential green energy solution for rural energy production in developing countries which also happens to be key to the sustainability of the telecom’s towers at the heart of the cell phone revolution.

Developed with Brunel University the Solar Botanic H2PowerPOD combines four innovative technologies: a regenerative hydrogen fuel cell, a hybrid vertical access wind turbine, a supercapacitor and an energy tree. These four technologies produce and store green hydrogen and act as a completely safe energy storage system with real world applications.

The first of these applications is for the telecom’s towers that are so important to communities in economically emerging nations. Many of these towers are located in inaccessible places, mountains for example. They are difficult to supply with fuel and to maintain, while others are prone to theft of generators and the diesel fuel they rely on.

Until now there was no suitable zero-carbon energy storage solution that could replace diesel generators and could provide acceptable security and affordability of electricity supply. The SolarBotanic solution does all of those things.

We’ll talk in a later blog about exactly how the technology works but what is important in this context is that it is a small-scale agile net zero solution that solves a real world problem.

And not just one real world problem.

Let’s return to the challenge of charging the millions of cell phones or providing electric light to the huge number of communities in sub-Saharan Africa for example, that will never be connected to the grid. Imagine then the difference a simple net zero energy source could make, one that doesn’t produce more CO2, or rely on expensive fossil fuel but is efficient and low cost.

It is just this kind of low impact, innovative technology that can be transformative for thousands of communities and millions of people. Without these types of developments,

“…the world will keep producing greenhouse gases, climate change will keep getting worse, and the impact on humans will in all likelihood be catastrophic.”

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