Friday, September 7, 2007

Electronics Shopping in the Monsoon

Already missing Bryant and Shibin (who left last night), I've posted a video of us shopping for the electronics of the Sewing Machine Mobile Phone Charger. This was down on Lamington Road, which is composed entirely of small, random electronics stores. So bazaar! ;)


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Friday, August 24, 2007

The hack is a success!

Finally, today, we were able to charge a mobile phone with the sewing machine hack that we threw together this week.

We'll post more pictures, but using about $5-$10 worth of electronics and parts we bought off the street, we were able to convert a footpowered sewing machine into a dynamo that generates a 6Volt 250 Milliamp charge--appropriate for charging mobile phones.

We don't know if this will ever get out of the lab, but we do know that there is a footpowered sewing machine in nearly every village in India, that there is a lot of unmet demand for electricity, people can charge Rs5 per charge, and that the poverty line in India is Rs10.

And not that I'm advocating child labor, but it is a reality, and with this, a kid could make Rs5 per hour while reading a book or doing homework. Just an idea.

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The Scrappy State of India's Electricity

"90 percent of Bihar, India's poorest state, has no electricity. Yet this has not stopped people [from] using mobile phones to connect to the world.

Arvind Tandon, 28, charges phones in his cramped shop where he sells and repairs clocks and radios. The use of a car battery, which also powers an electric fan on the counter, is available for Rs5 a time (about 13 cents). He proudly holds up a mobile phone connected to his contraption, which serves at least 150 customers each day. Mr Tandon started this supplementary business a year ago and now it makes up nearly half his revenues."
Financial Times, 6 August, 2007

Bihar is not alone. Most of Maharastra, India's second most prosperous state, went without electricity for up to 15 hours per day in 2006. Because India does not produce enough electricity to meet demand, the government cuts power for hours every day in nearly all villages, rich or poor, in a process called 'load sharing'. Only areas like Bombay get 24-7 electricity, because they receive power from a private company (Reliance). As soon as you get outside the city, you start seeing billboard advertisements for Batteries and Inverters (pictured), so people can still power fans and fridges when the power is cut. It is safe to say that while some parts of India are without electrical access, almost all of India is without regular electrical access.

Things didn't used to be this bad a decade ago, when villages only got power cut for a couple hours each day, if at all. However, India's economy is growing and transforming far faster than it's government is constructing new power plants. So even as India goes high tech, the lights are going out.
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Power Issues


The power issue is a huge bottleneck when talking about the economic growth of this country. In fact, the problem isn't getting better - it is getting worse! As the country grows in population, the demand for energy is even greater. In the state of Maharashtra, routine power outages occur almost on a daily basis in some parts of the state. Also, the state electricity board charges exorbitant prices for energy to offset the losses from free-loaders who just tap into their neighbors' electrical lines. Also, load sharing causes power outages for hours at a time - some are as long as 12 hours. Derek and I stumbled across the existence of UPS devices that are supposed to power a television, a fan, a refrigerator and other household items for a few hours. This is a great idea, but the prices of the UPS devices (which rely on Lead-Acid cells) are very high. We were quoted a price of 8000 Rps. (200$) for one of these devices.

This is obviously not a reasonable solution to the scheduled power outages. Another solution for load-sharing outages is the use of Petrol-Kerosene generators that are used by farmers. Of course, these aren't cheap as well, but they provide electricity when needed. Typical generators are run on a combination of Petrol and Kerosene which are usually used to power the irrigation pumps. Solar power is available, as the equatorial sun passes over India for long stretches of the year. This solution has been studied, but the cost of manufacturing solar cells for mass distribution in India isn't economically feasible yet.

Lately, the team has been looking into alternative energy solutions. Human powered solutions have been looked at and considered, and several potential products are being developed that may help many people stranded without electricity. It's interesting to note that even though the power infrastructure is unreliable, the mobile base stations that cell phones connect to are backed up through generators. Telecommunications in the Dark Ages!

Slideshow Link is here

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