Thursday, February 26, 2015

Now THAT Is 21st-Century Technology!

Contributors at Juan Cole's Informed Comment outline for us an emerging technology use by Kenya's nomadic shepherds that may possibly leapfrog that nation into the 21st century in a hurry: solar panels attached to the sides of donkeys. Usage is straightforward: the panels are mounted on the sides of donkeys, which are then released for some unspecified time to graze; when the donkeys return, the charged panels are dismounted and used to power cell phones and lighting in the shepherds' manyattas (encampments or settlements, often temporary) at night:

Note how neatly this avoids the need for a grid or a connection to a grid, at least on the client end... expect TV ads here in the US, explaining to us why the same approach wouldn't work here, in three... two... one...

(UPDATE: Oh, and don't miss this:
Google Wants To Help You Buy Solar Panels For Your House. Seriously.)


  1. Replies
    1. My reaction as well, Michael! (My original comment to you somehow disappeared...)

  2. It works well enough for nomads in tent whose sole electrical appliances are a cell phone and a couple of LED lights. I know backpackers on the Pacific Coast Trail who've adopted a similar thing, except it's just a sheet hung on the back of their backpack, for much the same purpose. It's not at all enough juice for normal household appliances though. Frankly, this isn't the kind of thing that worries our U.S. grid providers. Solar panels on tops of houses, on the other hand, have them in a dither, because they're required to provide grid connections to these people but these people are not paying anything towards the upkeep of the grid. That's leading to a situation where the electricity used by poor people is subsidizing the grid connections of rich people who can afford solar panels. And anytime you have a two-tier system like that, you know what happens -- sort of like Medicaid, which in most states provides a pathetic amount of healthcare compared to Medicare because it applies only to poor people while Medicare applies to all people age 65 and over. In most states being on Medicaid is only barely better than having no health insurance at all, because there are few doctors and hospitals who will accept it and most of them are overcrowded, underfunded, and hamstrung by lack of resources.

    1. 'Tux, I do understand that Western civilization requires more; we can hardly breathe without a connection to the grid and the intertubez. OTOH, right here in Houston, every summer, people die for lack of a/c in their scarcely maintained apartments, and for whatever reason, the subsidy programs designed to address the problem never quite work. Two-tiered system? maybe... as likely two tears as two tiers. I realize that solar panels on a backpack or a donkey pack are no substitute for the grid; you certainly can't a/c a five-room house that way.

      You don't have to tell me about Medicaid. My father went broke at the end of his life trying to pay my mother's nursing home bills; she had Alzheimer's. The week Mom was finally accepted for Medicaid was the week she died; she (actually Dad) never saw a penny from Medicaid. What renders Medicaid dysfunctional is the ideological determination that every state must have its own program... a libertarian's dream; a senior citizen's nightmare. It's too easy for a GOP state gov't to assure the dysfunction, and they damned surely did that here.

    2. What renders Medicaid dysfunctional is that it only covers POOR people, and anything that only covers POOR people is going to suck because poor people have no political power. It's the Golden Rule -- he who has the gold, rules. The fact that it's run by states is only bonus fail on top of that.

      LBJ originally wanted Medicare to cover not only disabled people and senior citizens, but poor people too. That's when the States Rights types insisted that there was no need for a *national* health insurance plan for these populations, Medicare should be run by the states and funded by the Federal government instead. In the end LBJ compromised by giving Medicaid to the States Rights types. Because the poor are always the first to be thrown under the bus. But creating a multi-tier system like that guarantees that Medicaid will suck. Even here in California, with a Democratic government that wants to do right, Medicaid sucks. Because, Golden Rule. Sigh.

      As is true of health care, so is true of power grids. Solar panels on donkeys suck big time compared to having a working grid. The only way to have a working grid is to have *everybody* connected to said grid, because otherwise, if only poor people are connected to it... Golden Rule of suck, again. Sigh. Spain already had to deal with this, and ended up having to impose a "grid maintenance tax" to save their electric grid after solar took off to the point where most of the relatively affluent were off the grid. Strange how we in the US seem to have a special horror of learning from other countries like Spain...

  3. I agree. Just wow.

    I'm certainly not saying we should all run out and purchase donkeys. But I am saying that in the US we seem to have a special horror of learning from other countries. Solar panels on a small scale, wind energy, flood control . . . the list goes on and on . . . all sorts of things that we could and should have adapted here decades ago.

    1. c, your observation can be generalized: most technologies that come to be used both in the US and also in other less-developed nations inevitably manifest themselves quite differently in the different sociopolitical environments.

      (BTW, I dreamed about you last night. Not quite in the way one might expect, but I was glad to "see" you anyway.)

    2. I hope it was "fun" dream - - - or at least a flattering one. LOL

    3. And Steve, also learning from other "developed" nations. Surely we are not so much "poorer" than the Netherlands, that we can't manage to adapt some of their flood control technology for our own use, for example . . .

    4. "I hope it was "fun" dream - - - or at least a flattering one. LOL" - c

      It was a very sweet dream. We were somehow about the same age (closer to your current age than mine), and I believe we lived somewhere in California and had a son named after your father and mine. (You mustn't tell your spouse-IRL, of course! :-) )

    5. c, from what I remember, I get the distinct impression that some of the San Antonio river works (dams, dikes, gates etc.) resemble some of the things they do in A'dam; I don't know how closely.

  4. Steve, how about New Orleans and NYC?

  5. Steve --- you over-estimate the interest of my spouse-IRL ---LOL!



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