Rob Katz

A BoP Energy Source?

Bill KramerGuest blogger Bill Kramer is principal of The Global Challenge Network, LLC, an executive education and training company. From 2001 through mid-2007, he worked on pro-poor business strategies with WRI. Previously, Bill founded a non-profit focusing on the relationship of knowledge to economic development and enjoyed a long career in the private sector, founding a dozen companies, most of which were in the book business.

By Bill Kramer

Kinetic GeneratorThis week’s Economist magazine has a story, which also appeared in The New York Times last Sunday, about a new “energy harvester” invented by Max Donelan of Simon Fraser University.The new device uses the knee’s walking motion to drive gears, which in turn drive a small generator.? The 13 watts of power won’t run a machine shop, but it will recharge phones and other small devices, such as small task lights. ?

As the Economist article points out, this is adding to the growing list of BoP-useful energy producing products — Rory Stear’s crank devices (which are growing in power, utility and application) and LED lighting.? (For more on LED lighting, see the Light Up The World Foundation.)? Given the scarcity of power in much of the developing world, and the destructiveness (and expense) of providing light and power, every new advance is important.

Bio-mechanical energy harvesting is too new a technology to have spawned a set of business notions that would take it to scale, but I can think of a few worth keeping an eye on.? First, it’s my view that, in a few years, a significant business model for mobile phones will be to reduce the purchase cost of handsets to zero, and make money from transactional activity, peripherals, and other value adds.? The kinetic recharger should be, one such value-add, especially if developed with seed funding from the public and philanthropic sectors, as has been the case with anti-malarial bed nets. ?

Second, my guess is that the technology of these devices will lend itself to local production, distribution and repair: they feature simple electronic parts and relatively low-tech requirements for mechanical parts.? Like KickStart’s MoneyMaker foot pumps, one can easily see a broad network of rural enterprises built around energy services, of which this could be part.