Tuesday, February 5, 2008

We Got the Grant!

We received confirmation that our team is to receive a grant for $50,000 to develop a microfranchise test bed in Honduras over the next 18 months! I am so excited that I could spit in Spanish. This means my family and I will be spending about six weeks in Honduras this summer, that we will have multiple teams of "Engineers with a Mission" students come to visit and assist, and, most of all, that we can build out a few village-level hydro power businesses in an attempt to combat poverty in the name of Christ. These, with prayers and sweat, will bring income to franchisees, improve the quality of light the villagers have, and save each family a significant fraction of their current energy bill.

By our calculations, a typical village family spends about $1.70 per week on kerosene for lanterns (like the ones in the picture) and single-use batteries for flashlights and radios. We think we can provide a superior quality of light, eliminate the indoor air pollution, and bring an intangible hope for the future for these families for $1.08 per week. And at this rate, the system can pay for itself in 2.5 years.

Let me share with you an excerpt from the grant proposal we submitted that paints a little background information.

Many of the poor of developing countries live in isolated mountainous communities without access to grid-based electric power. This is true in Central America, Peru, Chile, East Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, and Papua New Guinea, among others. The decentralized nature of the population makes it economically prohibitive to connect them to their national grids. “For those without access to electricity, lighting is derived from a diversity of sources, including kerosene, diesel, propane, biomass, candles, and yak butter.”[1] Fuel-burning lanterns, perhaps the most common alternative to electric lights, have been shown to be a source of respiratory disease[2], contribute to environmental problems associated with fossil fuels and deforestation, and put significant financial strain on the impoverished[3]. Evan Mills, an expert on rural lighting in developing countries, states in his 2005 Science article, “The Specter of Fuel Based Lighting”[4]:

“Fuel-based lighting embodies enormous economic and human inequities. The cost per useful lighting energy services... for fuel-based lighting is up to ~150 times that for premium-efficiency fluorescent lighting… [this means the cost to acheive the same level of light for the poor is much higher than it is for you and me]

“By virtue of its inefficiency and poor quality, fuel-based light is hard to work and read by, poses fire and burn hazards, and compromises indoor air quality. Women and children typically have the burden of obtaining fuel. Availability of [electric] lighting is linked to improved security, literacy, and income-producing activities in the home. Fuel prices can be highly volatile, and fuels are often rationed, which leads to political and social unrest, hoarding, and scarcity.”

However, in Honduras, Peru, Chile, and Nepal, for example, hydropower is considered a significant natural resource

[5], although its large scale production plants primarily serve urban areas. This proposal describes the creation of village-level “pico-hydro” (smaller than 5000 Watts output power) systems that harness small mountain streams to produce electricity services in remote communities. Furthermore, the energy produced by these methods can be sold to consumers through a variety of methods thereby making possible both electric lighting and entrepreneurial opportunities simultaneously.

[1] Mills, Evan, “The Specter of Fuel-Based Lighting,” Science, Vol. 308, Issue 5726, May 27, 2005
[2] Sikolia, DN, “The Prevalence of acute respiratory infections and the associated risk factors: A Study of children under five years of age in Kibera Lindi Village, Nairobi, Kenya,” Japanese National Institute of Public Health, 51 (1): 2002
[3] Residents of the Nairobi slum known as Kibera, for example, told a member of this proposal team (in 2006) that they were spending $0.28 per day on kerosene for less than three hours of light. With average incomes near $1.00 a day, this expense is significant.
[4] Mills, Evan, “The Specter of Fuel-Based Lighting,” Science, Vol. 308, Issue 5726, May 27, 2005
[5] CIA - The World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/xx.html

I invite my readers, both of you, to comment on our plans. Specifically, please consider the following thoughts:

For many hours during each day, the power provided by the river will not be used. During daylight hours, the system will be used for some battery charging, but after that task is done the power will be wasted. This could be for as much as 12 hours a day. What are some other uses for which this power could be used? For example, how about a freezer that makes blocks of ice for "ice-box" style food preservation? Or how about a community water heater where people could wash their clothes in hot water, or take a warm shower? What about some argicultural process like a coffee bean drier or a rubarb deshucker? How about a chicken centrifuge that slings out eggs faster than hens could lay without it? Dang it Jim! I'm an engineer not a third-world subsistence farmer! A little help?


Clint said...


This is really interesting. I'm thinking about ways to use the surplus. I'll get back to ya on that.

Can only students go...what about a 35 yr old husband/dad?

Laurie said...

This is great! Keep it up for the Lord!

Joy B said...

Can you use this power for cooking? Rural areas often use wood or liquid fuel for cooking. Both can be unhealthy for breathing, and wood is not very efficient. Would there be enough power for families to use a hot plate? Maybe a crock pot or a rice cooker would help.

Orangehouse said...

Most of the communities I have seen in the area use wood for cooking. There is plenty of it there, for now.

Cooking uses a lot of energy, so we don't feel that we can provide this service yet. For example, a 500 Watt hot plate uses 20 times the energy of a 25 Watt fluorescent tube, that we intend to use.

I agree that this is a real need, but I don't think electricity is the answer to this particular question. Instead, there are many wood-burning stoves that have been optimized to be very efficient and have low smoke emmissions. This means they use much less wood to cook the same amount, and are also much better for the respiratory conditions of the family.