James van der Walt

Social Entrepreneur, Ugesi Gold

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Social Renewable business with the help of the MIT battery

We have areas in Africa that don’t have access to most of the basics. This includes water, sanitation as well as electricity. Yet these people have the will to make their lives better if you show them how. I think that the energy crisis is a great opportunity to fight poverty. What if someone was to teach these communities on how to construct cheap renewable generators? What if the technology used is so simple that they can build and maintain them without the help of fancy engineers?

With some simple designs and a little bit of help they can make an income for their local economy as they sell this much needed clean energy. This will fight poverty and climate degradation while at the same time helping with the energy crisis. But how do they get the electricity to where it’s needed? They can’t afford copper cables. These cables will also get stolen quickly and sold as scrap metal (a major problem in South Africa – link to poverty of course).

This is where the MIT battery comes in. By letting these communities charge these big batteries they can be shipped to where the electricity is needed and sold. These batteries can also connect to the grid so they can sell to the national grid as well. They will have no shortage of buyers for the electricity. The question is just how much can they produce and how efficiently can be distributed where it is needed.

What other technologies do you think can help? I’m currently working on an ocean generator that can be built from scrap material and there are some really simple wind generators. The key is to keep is simple as well as cheap. Remember these generators are built in rural villages. They can’t build massive solar PV panels even though the Chinese are selling them cheaply. It has to be sustainable. If they want to expand their generating capability they must be able to go to the local scrap yard and put “most” of it together themselves. Dependency must be kept at a minimum.

  • Jun 2 2012: Hi Jim: I have neighbors from South Africa (and Swaziland, wife and husband respectively). We are fortunate to have some of the nicest neighbors in the world!

    I do not know if this helps; but one technology that I read about very recently was a lithium battery by "SolarCity" in San Mateo, California. Cost is around $1,000 per kWh I've read. Basically, the guy that built the Tesla Car started porting the battery technology over to this solar installation company to serve storage needs there. Well: Guess what Elon Musk is oritinally from South Africa! And you never know they might want to find a way to help out! I get the feeling he does care about the planet. You should contact them. http://www.solarcity.com/ . I also found this site for small power: http://barefootpower.com/barefoot-products/powapack/powapack-village-kit-15w but I would not be surprised if you have already seen it! Good luck. kyle sager http://heliocurrent.com

    PS Elon Musk is chairman at SolarCity. Anybody's guess how much time he spends there. He just launched a rocket with "spaceX" to service the international space station. You South Africans get around!

    PPS I saw on one video that don sadoway's company is getting a portable unit (waterheater sized) development funded by TOTAL Energy. My only reserved concern is Total could be funding a source to canabalize their own subtantial oil rig investments (if a house battery from solar could eventually start charging cars...will they support their investment??) http://lmbcorporation.com/ I think the liquid metal battery idea is huge. I hope they make it available to places like yours. Maybe contact the Gates Foundation too! They just gave $25 million to Sadoway and they are focused on taking care of poor areas.