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Electrical Power is No Longer a Problem in ICT for Development

By Wayan Vota on March 10, 2013
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It was not long ago that electrical power was the largest barrier to using ICTs in rural areas. Back when desktop computers had big CRT screens, each computer needed 150-200 watts of power. Just turning on a computer required a costly generator and an inverter.

Then lower power computers and LCD screens came out that could run on as little as 20 watts, meaning you could run a desktop computer off a simple car battery – no inverter or generator needed. This revolutionized computer deployments, radically reducing costs and increasing the reach of technology solutions.

Now, with the rise of the tablet, there is another paradigm shift happening. When an iPad can run video for 10 hours of a 42 Amp hour battery or a Kindle runs for 2 months on one charge, and both can be recharged by a small, cheap solar panel, the very concept of electrical power as a barrier to ICT adoption starts to fade away.

This a key realization I had at the San Francisco Technology Salon that asked: What Are the Top 10 Technology Challenges in International Development?

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That is not to say that power isn’t still a concern, or that we can now ignore power in deployments, but we are moving from power being an infrastructure problem to a financial problem.

Previously, where we would need to build out a $20,000 full electrical infrastructure to run a computer lab, we can now hand out African designed tablets and either add a solar panel or subsidize the use of private recharging facilities that exist for mobile phones and charge 20-50 Kenyan shillings a charge.

Power is now opex, not capex, and we should be ecstatic.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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8 Comments to “Electrical Power is No Longer a Problem in ICT for Development”

  1. it s true that great progress has been made in reducing the power hunger of client devices, moving from heavy desktop PCs to smart ultralaptops.

    the conclusion however, “Electrical Power is No Longer a Problem in ICT for Developmen”, is wrong – it ignores infrastructure, networks, data centers – all the ingredients that make the difference between being mere users of ICT supplied by others and being a maker and builder of ICT yourself.
    the danger in this misunderstanding is obvious: it once more makes developing nations second grade users of ICT.

    there is a tremendous opportunity for e.g. many african countries, in building this next generation infrastructure – powered sustainably, often off the central grid.
    misunderstandings like above would have us miss that opportunity.

  2. FLORENCE NAYIGA SSEKABIRA says:

    AM HAPPY THAT WITH THE NEW DEVELOPMENTS CHILDREN,WOMEN, PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES DEEP IN THE RURAL AREAS IN AFRICA AND OTHER DEVELOPING AREAS WILL ACCESS ; ICT KNOWLEDGE FOR DEVELOPMENT AS LONG AS PROPER AWARENESS IS CARRIED OT IN THE COMMUNITIES ON CHEAPER SOLAR PANELS AND EQUIPMENT.

    GOVERNMENTS, UN- BODIES, NGOS, DONORS , AND DEVELOPMENT PARTNERS NEED TO COMMIT THEM SELVES TO THIS TO PUT BUDGET LINES,REDUCE TAXES ON THOSE ITEMS .

  3. I agree with the article’s basic premise: that electricity is no longer the barrier it once was. That is a tremendous shift that deserves celebration. The title does overstates the case, and perhaps intentionally. @sebastian is correct; reliable electrical power, along with reliable and sufficient bandwidth, is still a challenge for developing countries. It affects connectivity to the Cloud. It also affects systems that demand local data centers due to policy, performance, or connectivity requirements. This is particularly true in larger medical facilities implementing eHealth systems. Newer low power devices, improved battery technology, and alternative power sources reduce this problem and in many cases help us to avoid it entirely. However, it has not disappeared entirely. Developing countries still face the challenge of providing sufficient and reliable electrical power to their citizens and their economies.

  4. we can summarize this, simplified:

    a lot of progress has been made on the end user side, and power is no longer the hurdle there.

    for the real infrastructure, the challenge remains and power is the #1 problem for ICT development.

  5. Lutz Frommberger says:

    I think what we can take home from this article is that it definitely makes sense to rely on ICT even if electrical power is always an issue. The situation is rapidly improving, and the line of argument to discourage the introduction of ICT for development due to insecure power supply is getting weaker and weaker. We cannot wait until the situation meets the standard of Western countries before we develop tools – it’s also the tools that encourage creative solutions to solve power supply issues.

  6. […] 話はちょっと変わるけど、このBPOセンターのように、農村部や地方でのITプロジェクトというと、まず最初に電力インフラがネックになるのでは?と感じるが、ICTWorksに「Electrical Power is No Longer a Problem in ICT for Development」というタイトルで電力インフラ問題は以前ほど決定的なハードルでなくなりつつあるという投稿があった。PCはCRTモニターからLCDモニタになったり、タブレット端末が登場したり、といったことから、IT端末はソーラーパネルや車のバッテリーでもある程度稼働が可能なものになっている。つまり、電力インフラにかける投資は依然より減少し、電力インフラは投資対象ではなく、運営費になるだろうということを指摘している。確かに、依然と比べてノートPCのバッテリー駆動時間もずいぶん長くなったし、ICT4Dプロジェクトのハードルは技術革新によってどんどん低くなっていくのは間違いないだろう。 […]

  7. Aaron Mason says:

    It’ll be interesting to see where plug computers fit into the power scheme… Does the power consumption of a monitor outweigh the cost of a tablet’s battery?