Basic Sources of Electricity

With the introduction of the transistor radio and the handheld flashlight dry cells became a favorite means to provide light and entertainment in rural areas. Dry cells can be purchased in many places and are easy to carry. Thus, many rural families spend substantial amounts of money on them. Transistor radios play an important role in the life of remote communities, not only because they bring music and entertainment, but also because radio broadcasts in many places carry important messages such as warnings of floods, instructions on health practices and other valuable services, such as family to family message delivery. Some countries have even set up radio stations with regional broadcasting in the locally spoken native language or dialect, when it is different from the official national language.

New forms of entertainment, such as portable televisions, VCRs and CD players, have increased the demand for electricity in many rural communities. Because of this, dry cells prove to be expensive, and hence many users in rural areas not connected to the grid have resorted to the car battery as the power source for their needs, including home lighting. Car batteries are widely available in rural areas of many developing countries. They are rechargeable, and because of their relatively larger power capacity, they can be applied to a wider variety of services; they last longer and may turn out to be cheaper per unit of service delivered than dry cells. Recharging car batteries, however, requires a primary source of electricity. Where motorcars or tractors are available, people use them to recharge batteries. Otherwise, batteries are carried over long distances to the nearest source of electricity for recharging. However, batteries are heavy and burdensome to carry, so transport to the point of recharging is sometimes done on the backs of beasts of burden and sometimes on the backs of humans. There have been cases of local entrepreneurs setting up micro-businesses to offer battery-recharging services. In this model, batteries are collected, taken to the point of recharging, recharged and then returned to the owner. This operation however, requires some infrastructure such as roads and means of transportation, not always available in rural areas.

As the economic power of families increases, so does the need for electricity. Dry cells and car batteries are no longer sufficient, so people in many places put political pressure on electricity authorities to extend the grid to their communities, or individually resort to the use of small gasoline- fuelled generator sets. Small generator sets have the advantage of supplying alternating current of the right voltage, so that conventional appliances can be used. But their service is usually restricted to a few hours a day, because of the increasing cost of operation and maintenance of the equipment, plus the difficulties of getting and transporting the fuel.

Experience shows that, even when grid electricity is available, people in rural areas normally use it to light a few bulbs and perhaps to power small radios or typically black and white TV sets. Most people in rural areas lack the money needed to buy larger electric appliances, such as refrigerators and washing machines, or are simply not acquainted with them. Hence, because the number and size of appliances now in use is small, rural electrification represents an important niche of opportunity for the application of photovoltaic technology.

Updated: August 24, 2015 — 10:22 pm