Electricity is a foundation technology upon which our civilization is built. It allows us to live after the sun goes down. Electricity symbolizes life in the developed world in 2013 yet today there are still an estimated 1.2 billion*1 people in the world who live without it. This is 20% of the world’s population.
Today we have technology that delivers reliable electricity to billions of people every day. These generation and distribution systems were primarily designed in the early 20th century. They employ large central generation, high voltage transmission and medium voltage distribution with users operating in the 100-240 volt range depending on their geography.
*1) Data from the World Bank
*Distribution of the global population living without electricity, by Worldbank.org.
The people without electricity are for the most part poor. To effectively bring electricity to these people you must solve a technology/science problem, a cost problem, and a capital problem.
The Major Obstacle:
You need a lot of money to deploy today’s electric system in poor parts of the world. A nuclear power plant can cost $6-$10 billion. A coal-fired power plant can cost $4-$5 billion. Gas-fired power plants range between $60 million and $250 million. It is not uncommon for transmission lines to cost $1 million per mile. Even smaller power plants cost millions of dollars to build. The World Bank estimates that it will take $35-$40 Billion per year through 2030 to bring power to the unlighted world. No once is willing to provide these large amounts of capital to the poorest people in the world.
New technological developments are now making it possible to change the basic economic equation of bringing power to the unlighted world. Solar, small wind, and LED lighting provide foundation technologies that could rewrite the economic equation. From a deployment perspective, however, these technologies are being developed for deployment in today’s present grid. Consequently, these technologies are not optimized for low cost, simple deployment and maintainability in the developing world.
Light the World plans to develop the cost optimized technology that is neccessary to have a very low cost electricity deployment. This has not been done by for profit companies because there is insufficient return on their investment for doing this type of development.
The following graph shows the economic impact of poor reliability in electricity delivery. If implemented, Light the World's vision for the development of the grid in areas that no electricity will improve grid reliability and have a positive economic impact.
To put this graph into perspective; 13.7% of the United States of America GPD is just over $2 TRILLION.
*Graph from worldbank.org