Solar Panels + Cellular Network = Electricity In Remote Places

Engineer Alex Hornstein is the creator of Tiny Pipes, a system that's turned out to be a bargain for residents of one off-the-grid Philippine island.

What's the Latest Development?

Alex Hornstein, an MIT-trained engineer currently living in China, thinks he's come up with a way to get affordable electricity to the fifth of the world's population -- about 1.5 billion people -- who can't get access. Tiny Pipes allows customers to rent a 60-watt solar panel that contains a card that connects to the local cellular network. They can then pay for the power they use through a mobile phone. Currently Hornstein is testing the system on the Philippine island of Alibijaban, and plans to expand it to 1,000 homes in the city of Bacolod next summer.

What's the Big Idea?

Normally, Alibijaban residents get all their electricity from car batteries, which they take to the mainland each week in order to get them recharged. That process costs up to US$2 a week in addition to the cost of ferrying the batteries back and forth. Considering that the average resident consumes approximately one cent's worth of electricity per day, Tiny Pipes will save them a considerable amount. "The aim is to find an elegant way to produce energy for people who are using little energy," says Hornstein. "My ambition here is to make the largest, most widespread power grid in the world."

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