Ethan Zuckerman’s online home, since 2003

Incremental ideas: solar-powered GSM towers

I wrote a bit last year about the idea of “incremental infrastructure“. Basically, the idea is that there might be a future for infrastructure projects in Africa that build small pieces of infrastructure and either join them together, or simply make a profit serving a local community. One of the major vectors proposed was working with mobile phone companies to build power infrastructure, an idea stolen shamelessly from the brilliant Russell Southwood.

Russell gets credit for tipping me off to today’s incrementalism link: an announcement by Indian telecoms vendor VNL that they’ve developed a solar-powered, battery back up low power GSM tower. These towers won’t provide enough excess power that they can sell energy to local villages – which is what Russell and I had proposed companies might start doing with diesel generators, but they’ll certainly be more environmentally friendly than diesel generators, and they point to both the increasing practicality of photovoltaic generation in sub-Saharan Africa, and the value of designing products specifically for difficult infrastructure markets.

One Response to “Incremental ideas: solar-powered GSM towers”

  1. Anna says:

    I think solar power is a great idea for Africa. Particularly in light of the fact that there is not electricity available there and in many ways, wind and solar is a lot easier to implement. Furthermore, the rest of the world is already producing so much pollution. Africa should be able to benefit from grid power just as much as the West – but without adding another US-sized or China-sized load of toxins to the already overwhelmed planet.

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