Sunday, May 03, 2015

Charging or free charges

Batteries by Tesla Motors can revolutionise electricity for the world’s poorest citizens the way mobile technology disrupted the telecommunications industry. Coupled with solar panels or wind turbines, powerful lithium-ion batteries can store energy and provide electricity for people facing what’s called “energy poverty.”

“In a lot of places there are no utility lines,” Musk, Tesla’s chief executive officer, said at the introduction of itsTesla Energy products. “This allows you to go completely off grid.”

About 1.3 billion people worldwide don’t have access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency. Almost 97% of those people live in sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia, according to the agency. Those regions could be good locations for so-called micro-grids—self-contained systems of solar panels and batteries.

Peter Asmus, an analyst with Navigant Consulting explained that if declining prices of solar panels and batteries continue as expected, “that’s the game changer.” Asmus said solar and battery systems can be used to replace dirty and expensive diesel generation commonly used in developing countries. Whether a poor community would use smaller home batteries or a shared system isn’t yet clear. In some cases, people might pay for electricity using their mobile phones. “The challenge is how do you get people to pay,” Asmus said.

Isn’t it tragic that a new technology that is not merely a game-changer but a life-changer eventually comes down to how to charge people (and make a profit) rather than provide the energy charge for free so they can go about their daily lives.

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