Electricity for Every Home, Everywhere

By Traver Kennedy, Chairman and CEO on July 11, 2017
Traver Kennedy
Home  / Blog  /  Electricity for Every Home, Everywhere

How Hydrogen Can Help Close the Gap

A while back, the Washington Post published a revealing infographic on the fact that more than 100 years after the first power cables were laid, 1.2 billion people around the globe still have no access to electricity. It is no surprise that while North America and Europe have nearly 100% penetration, the rest of the world does not; and some countries are far from it. Penetration rates vary dramatically, from 0.2% of China’s population living “in the dark” as the Washington Post calls it, to 24% in India, to an 88% majority of Uganda.

From the turn of the twentieth century, when light bulbs started replacing kerosene lighting in streets and homes, the adoption of electricity rose steadily. In the U.S., for instance, it took 15 years to get electricity to 20% of homes; another 15 years to get it to 70%; and 45 years after those first cables were laid, electricity was in 90% of homes. Today, it stands at nearly 100%. A similar rate of adoption happened in Europe. However, in much of the rest of the world, electricity rose steadily, albeit at a slower rate, but then it stagnated at around 85% where it remains today.

The key to power every home on the planet is to create an on-site, always-available source of clean and affordable energy.

It Takes Visionary Doers: A Computer in Every Home

In an interview with The Telegraph upon retiring as Microsoft’s CEO in 2008, Bill Gates reflected, “We had dreams about the impact it could have. We talked about a computer on every desk and in every home. It’s been amazing to see so much of that dream become a reality and touch so many lives. I never imagined what an incredible and important company would spring from those original ideas.”

The capabilities of computers have dramatically changed since Bill Gates famously outlined his vision in the 1980s. Although we are far from 100% penetration (you need electricity to power a computer or a mobile device), here are some stats on the actualization of “a computer in every home” in 2017:

Global Users in 2017                              % of WW Population

3.77 billion Internet                                                    50%

2.80 billion social media                                            37%

4.92 billion mobile                                                      66%

1.61 billion e-commerce                                            22%

We Need a Similar Vision to Close the 100-Year Gap: Electricity in Every Home

It was the advent of “untethered” computers—mobile devices—that significantly accelerated the penetration of computers, especially in the developed world. In the area of electricity, the idea of decentralized or distributed power generation is a similar requirement that can finally get us to 100% penetration of such a basic resource for prosperity and well-being.

The electricity grid can only go as far as the cost/benefit equation for grid operators takes it. Therefore, the further you get away from cities and industrial centers, the higher your chances of not having access to the electric cable—a well-established challenge in the IT and telecom industries known as ‘the last mile.’ This is exemplified in the Washington Post article, which states, “Of all countries, India has the largest population that does not have access to electricity. While 94 percent of Indians living in urban areas have electricity, only 67 percent in rural areas have power.”

What we need to take electricity to the next level is a distributed source of power that can operate independent of the electric grid, when needed. A source that can reliably operate 24/7 is also a requisite for closing electricity’s last mile.

A Formula for Independent Energy that can Close the Electricity Gap

The good news is that in many remote areas of the world, clean, alternative sources of energy, such as solar and wind, are helping to close the gap. The explosive growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine to Machine (M2M) communications (see our article on this topic) makes it profitable to deploy these technologies to places where the grid cannot go.

However, alternative sources of power like wind and solar have limitations. The biggest is their variability as solar only works when the sun shines, and turbines only move when the wind blows. And while storage has advanced steadily over the past few years, it is not yet at the stage where surplus wind and solar can be efficiently stored locally for when they are not available (such as cloudy days or nighttime).

This is where innovations in energy like Hydrogen 2.0 can play a valuable role in the future. Hydrogen 2.0 will enable the localized production of clean hydrogen energy from water, 24/7. Hydrogen 2.0 can be used to produce electricity and heat to complement renewables, like wind and solar, and can even be used as a standalone power source in places too remote for even wind and solar to reach.

Using Innovation to Get to 100% Penetration

The story as illustrated by the Washington Post infographic—where the areas without electric power are also the poorest areas in the world—clearly shows the need to view access to electricity as a basic human right. With power to meet life’s essential needs, like keeping food fresh and purifying water, people can focus their energy on the creation of common wealth rather than everyday survival. Innovation in energy sources that are not reliant on the traditional electricity grid to operate, like solar, wind, and hydrogen, promise to lift the economic and distance barriers that continue to leave over 1.2 billion people in the dark.


Photo courtesy of Cristopher Michel.
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