Bringing Electricity and Broadband to East Africa

With all the talk these days about the latest and greatest gadgets and social media tools, sometimes many of us living in developed countries take one big thing for granted: electricity.  Approximately 1.6 billion people in the world are living without access to electricity.  Most of these people use wood, coal or even dung to heat and cook in their homes, which can result in indoor air pollution that kills 1.6 million people a year.   Furthermore, those without regular access to electricity can’t recharge their electronics and participate on the Internet.  Because so much of our lives – particularly employment and education – are largely dependent on technology today, it is not in anyone’s interest to be left behind in the new digital age.

Some innovators are looking towards green technology to solve the problem.  The African Development Bank has embarked on an ambitious project to increase geothermal prospecting throughout East Africa.  This is the process of drilling geothermal regions, where hot fluids drive turbines for electricity.  The Bank will focus on building geothermal units in the East African Rift Valley.


……[The African Development Bank] is currently working with the government of Djibouti on the development of a 50 MW power plant in the LacAssal region. In Ethiopia, the AfDB has played a leading role in defining a geothermal development roadmap.

In Tanzania, the AfDB is leading the development of the scaling-up renewable energy programme of the Climate Investment Funds, which will include the financing of a geothermal development project. In the Comoros, the AfDB has started the identification process for a 20 MW geothermal plant, matching the needs of the archipelago…

This BBC report describes the project in Kenya:

Solar power is also being used to bridge the broadband divide.  Microsoft announced in February that it was collaborating with the Kenyan government to deliver affordable, solar-powered broadband access through white space technology.

So what exactly is white space technology?

……TV white spaces, the unused portions of wireless spectrum in the frequency bands generally used for television, are particularly well-suited for delivering low-cost broadband access to rural and other unserved communities. Radio signals in the TV bands travel over longer distances and penetrate more obstacles than other types of radio signals and, therefore, require fewer base stations to provide ubiquitous coverage. Microsoft intends to use this pilot and other similar initiatives to encourage African governments to make the needed legal and regulatory changes that would allow this type of technology to be deployed continent wide…

Microsoft’s project is similar to one in South Africa just announced by Google, which uses three base stations for ten schools.

“You’re talking about delivering broadband access to communities without any electricity whatsoever, without paved roads; all these things we take as normal don’t exist in these communities,” said Paul Garnett, director of technology policy at Microsoft. “It’s exciting to be in schools where kids have never used the Internet before. Within 90 seconds they’re surfing the ‘Net, they’re using a touchscreen, and they’re off and running. It’s an amazing thing.”

We will certainly monitor the progress of all of these projects!

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