Saturday, January 29, 2011

Locally Built vs. Imported Devices


As we have stated before, the goal of our research is to develop technologies with developing African nations while keeping in mind the social constraints of the area. There is a tradeoff with choosing locally designed devices over imported devices, but we believe it will be worth it in the long run. With imported devices you get maximum efficiency, a top of the line machine that is assured success. However, there are two flaws with this choice. One is that, often, such devices need a lot of funding to implement and therefore are not widespread enough to succeed. However, when these devices are spread throughout an area, they lose their value as soon as they break because the locals don’t have immediate access to the materials needed to fix such high-tech devices. Also, this technology is much more expensive to develop and put into practice. It costs much more to make a wind turbine blade out of steel rather than to weave it.

The problem with locally designed devices is that they take more time to implement and they are less efficient. However, they are able to be repaired because they were built using resources within the area. They also help unemployment, which is as high as 80% in some areas. The biggest reason to try integrating locally designed devices is simply that using imported devices has not worked for decades, and it’s time we learn from our mistakes.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Commenting on Wall Street Journal Article

Does Helping the Planet Hurt the Poor?

Empower Design's comments...

(1) "Sometimes we should choose to protect the environment and the nonhuman animals that depend on it, even if that denies economic opportunities to some people living in extreme poverty."

My opinion: Economic opportunities are how we define it. What is our willingnesstopay. The problem with the economic opportunities argument is that we define it in terms of what they are willing to sell instead of our willingnesstopay. They live in a barter system which is historically sustainable, but has decreased life span (the only real limit to their cultural life style that I can measure). If we moved from a monetary system to a barter system, economic systems would potentially be tribal/community-focused instead of individualistic. In Uganda, people are choosing two methodologies for the bicycle electric generator: a public good model of sharing electricity for the bicycle electric generator deep in the bush where people barter and as a private good which you purchase in a construction management type contract in the more urban areas.

(2) "Even when economists ignore environmental concerns, their usual method of assigning a value to human lives leads to the ethically embarrassing conclusion that the poor count for less because they earn less and cannot pay as much to reduce life-threatening risks."

This is a great point and one that I deal with in my in-review article with how much should a back-up hand-crank surgical lamp be worth in Uganda given their risks associated with unreliable electric grids. In the United States, the surgical lamp would be worth more and people selling it would get more money for their innovation, but in Uganda the surgical lamp would not be worth as much and people selling it will no get as much money as them selling to the Unites States. It is a hard ethical decision for us to make in terms of how big (lumens of light intensity and battery storage capacity) the back-up surgical lamp should cost.

(3) "I wish that Mr. Lomborg were right that $100 billion a year could provide the world's poor with clean drinking water, sanitation, food, health and education, but that figure is wildly optimistic."

I completely agree with Singer. Throwing money at anything is not the solution. Appropriate technology has failed for the last 30+ years even on the small scale. Making this a bigger scale issue will reinforce the dependence which must be broken.

(4) "Let me end by agreeing with Mr. Lomborg on the need for more investment in research and development for green energy."

This is the key issue: research and development. However, they are missing the forest by focusing on specific trees... the poor need research and development programs which invest in their future - not aid and not investment in our future (or worst what we want their future to be). Our future is different from their future locally. What makes sense in the US may or may not make sense in Uganda. Clean water is true, but how to get clean water should be different. We use chemicals (takes shorter amount of time - pay people less labor time), but there are natural processes which will cost different their because their labor costs are MUCH lower (takes longer time - pay people more labor time) - see Technology for Tomorrow's bio-sand filter (co-author on paper). Green electricity is true, but how we get electricity should be different. Their optimal system for deep in the bush is human power system because labor is cheap and demand for electricity is extremely high - however, they are using it as a public good. In the US,our electricity systems have demanded a private good with minimum policy (mainly to insure the utilities continue to get a profit and we have increased reliability). In the US, It would not make sense to have human powered electricity (except at gyms) because it would mean electricity would cost MUCH MORE than $1/kWh.

The problem I have is assuming that outsiders have more of the answer and should let us design for them. Instead of "Design with the Poor" we have created a national and international fad of "Design for the Other 90%". We call the poor - "the other" and we design it for them - why? Because we own the patents and we make a living off of them.

Sorry, this article touches on many key points and I ramble. I still think it has good points and needs to be out there for others to read. However, it needs to go deeper and not just from our point of view. For example, I have heard the saying many times: "You cannot kill a goat who has a slit throat"... if they view their society and culture as dead, then it is survival minute-to-minute. What we need is to quit talking about them as poor and having a slit throat.... they are brilliant... innovative... and we steal their ideas and patent them (design for the other 90% examples). We never publish with professors in developing countries because we are the smart ones - even though they collected all of our data and guided us in the research. My colleagues in Africa and I are working on an article for Foreign Policy that will look at 50 African lecturers/professors and the US/European researchers who ask for them to do the majority of the research and benefited from their guidance in all kinds of academic investigations and research questions, but they were NEVER on an academic publication.

Yes, GHG emmissions must be dealt with now. However, are they prisoners stuck in our game or are both of us prisoners and we must collaborate. I worry that they are prisoners stuck in our game and we define and set-up the rules and potentially only pit them against each other.

Using the Interactive Graph

Just as we discussed in the last blog, the interactive graph is a useful
tool which visually demonstrates the development of over 100 countries in
different statistical categories from 1980 to 2006. In addition, you can
see the visual correlation between different categories.

For example, remember that by examining the behaviors of China, India,
Uganda, and the U.S., we determined that there is a positive relation
between the average base power consumed per household, given in Watts per
capita, and how ‘developed’ a nation is. If we want to see what
potential factors contribute to higher average base power consumption per
capita, we can easily do this using the graph. You place the main category
(in this case average base power consumption per capita) on the y-axis.
Then, on the x-axis, you cycle through the different variables you believe
has an impact on the main category. If the data set of a country over time
fits a positive regression model, then the variable is a potential
contributing factor to the main category.

In the case of average base power consumption per capita, using the method
above we can see that electricity generation, GDP, and HDI are all factors
which contribute to increased power consumption per household. Conversely,
other categories do not have such a strong linear or log-log relationship
when graphed. Take, for example, the total average base power consumed.
This is the approximate number of power plants at 200 MW needed to meet
this base power. If you compare it to a country’s population, the
regression model has a much weaker correlation compared to other
statistical categories. While correlation doesn’t necessarily imply
causation, from results such as this we can infer that it isn’t factors
like a country’s size, but rather factors like as electricity generation,
HDI and GDP that mainly dictate its power consumption.

It was from such data that our research team developed what we think is the
best way to combat poverty in so-called ‘developing’ nations such as
Uganda. If you have not read the December 2010 Science Policy Forum article
called Energy-Poverty-Climate Nexus, we highly recommend reading it. All of
our electricity generating devices are not only connected to poverty, but
also climate - we will talk more about the climate issue when we begin our
microgrid blogs. First, we will focus on poverty discussions.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Understanding Electricity in Uganda

In order to comprehend the severity of the energy crisis in Uganda, you must compare its electricity consumption to other countries. This is where the interactive graph, which can be found in the previous post and on the website’s homepage, comes in use. First, what do you think about telling everyone in America that you can only have access to the electricity equivalent of one incandescent light bulb (60 Watts). This is still 2000% (or 20 times) more than what people in Uganda have access to: 3 Watts/Person.

Over the next two blogs, we will compare Uganda’s rank in major statistical categories with three of the largest nations in the world: India, China, and the U.S. The category which best reflects the development of a nation is the average power consumed per household, given in Watts per capita. Choosing the bar graph view on the graph, we see that in 1980 the average power consumed per capita for these nations is:

Uganda: 3

U.S.: 1050

India: 16

China: 30

At this point in time, only a handful of countries consume more electricity per household than the U.S., while India, China, and Uganda are in the bottom half of this category. Uganda, specifically, dwells at the bottom of this spectrum, consuming less than 3 Watts per household. By pressing the play button in the bottom left corner of the graph, you can see the progression of each country in the statistical category you choose from 1980 to 2006. In 2006, the average power consumed per capita for the four countries is:

Uganda: 5

U.S.: 1460

India: 55

China: 220

It is clearly visible that so-called ‘undeveloped’ countries such as India and China are, over time, increasing power consumption per household. This is significant as there is a correlation between electricity and development. China and India have grown to become modern-day superpowers, and it comes as no surprise that they have also been able to make strides when it comes to consumption of electricity. Uganda has not been able to emulate this growth, and it is from studying nations such as India, China, and the U.S. that we have agreed with the conjecture that increasing energy sustainability in Uganda will strongly increase its human development.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Introduction to Empower Design

Our research team and development (R&D) has developed a user interactive graph in order to display the progress of so-called developing countries such as Uganda in comparison with so-called developed countries such as America in terms of sustainable development. This model compares the average based power consumed (kilowatts per capita) with the country’s ranking on the Human Development Index (HDI). In addition, you are able to select and graph only specific countries and add different comparisons to the graph such as average power consumed. Then you can push play and see how the countries have changed over the last 20+ years.

From our model, it is easily apparent that developing countries, particularly different African nations, are the lowest in terms of both average base power consumption per capita and on the human development index. With appropriate technology in Africa for over 40 years, it is appalling that these countries still occupy the bottom of this spectrum. This predicament is what inspired our research. We asked ourselves, “Why do newly developed appropriate technologies fail in developing countries?” Our solution was that too much attention was being paid to the engineering aspect of new machinery without taking into account local constraints that need to be placed upon such technology. For instance, if a wind turbine is built in Uganda with blades reinforced with carbon fiber tape and it breaks, the locals will not be able to repair it because they have no access nor the finances to acquire resources such as carbon fiber tape. Therefore, the machine goes to waste. The focus of our research is to develop technologies that will survive and thrive in African nations by taking into account social constraints.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Beginning our first year of blogs

This week, we will begin blogging at least once a week and sometimes 3-5 times a week. We will have interesting perspectives in the mix of blogs, but the beginning blogs will start with our Empower Design teams of co-designers from Uganda and US. We hope you choose to follow us and join us in changing the paradigm of "Design for Africans" to a paradigm of "Design with Africans".