Two billion live off the grid

Off-grid is not second best.

The New York Times estimates a total of two billion worldwide are living without mains power, water or phone. The implication is that this tragedy needs to be dealt with. But many of those people are happy as they are. And they could have access to power and water without it being brought to their doors by big-budget make-work schemes.

Artificial light is easy for us in the developed world to take for granted. But to those living off the grid access to a safe, affordable source of light can be life-changing. The productive day stretches past sunset to allow students to do schoolwork or small vendors to extend their selling hours. Light means added safety, whether at home or traveling alone, particularly for women. As a replacement for kerosene and wood fires, flashlights are a boon for the environment.

Sometimes thinking small can be better, admits The Times. “To bring artificial light to an isolated village or refugee camp could require building an enormous hydroelectric dam, followed by laying hundreds of miles of cable. Or it could take the donation of a $10 solar flashlight.”

SunNight Solar, has developed a solar-powered torch that lasts up to seven hours of light, is easily recharged, and lasts almost three years between battery replacements. The light retails for $20 in America, and corporate donors have bought them for aid groups at half the price.

As technologies advance, people in wealthy countries carry ever smaller computers in knapsacks and phones in their pockets. But the same advances bring simple, rugged technologies like the solar torch within reach of the poor. The brightest minds shouldn’t be afraid to think incrementally. Often that’s where you find the best results.

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