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Development Account Projects

Renewable energy for information and the provision of communication services in rural areas of developing countries

Background:

The potential marginalization of the poorest countries and a growing “digital divide” is receiving increasing attention. Lack of access to communication in the world today is becoming a factor in defining poverty. Expanding communications infrastructure and networks depends on the availability of electricity to power equipment. While extending electricity grids to rural communities is prohibitively expensive, advances in renewable energy technologies mean that “off grid” systems can and are being used to provide reliable electrical power to rural communities. Therefore, the future of telecommunications lies in wireless applications. As wireless application technology becomes prevalent, base stations powered by solar and other renewable energy systems may be the most appropriate solution for relatively inaccessible regions and rural areas in poor countries. The project explores options for utilizing renewable energy technologies (e.g., solar photovoltaic systems) for powering base stations for wireless application technology in rural areas of developing countries.

The project will identify policy and investment opportunities that would advance the availability of public services in rural areas of developing countries, promoting the expansion of communications infrastructure and expanding the use of information and communication technologies to support sustainable development.

Objective:

To identify options and a structured approach for using renewable energy (e.g., solar photovoltaics) technologies for powering information and communication technologies in rural areas of developing countries.

Expected accomplishments:

  • Development of a methodology for examining, from both the public and private perspectives, how rapidly changing information and communication technologies can help meet the sustainable development needs of rural communities
  • Development of guidelines for changes in government and private sector policies and practices needed to keep abreast of technological advances and take advantage of new applications, including those that foster private sector investment in the field
  • Completion of recommendations on field application or demonstration in selected developing countries, supported by a comprehensive list of applications where information and communication technologies can be applied creatively to address problems in the areas of health, education and environment
  • Development of an action plan for a follow-up programme on renewable energy in support of wireless application with the United Nations and private sector partners and a network to support the use of such technology in developing countries

Effects and Impact:

The project has identified and evaluated cost-effective examples of renewable energy (RE) technologies that are being used to extend information and communication technologies (ICT) and services to rural areas. The project has also increased interest and commitments by donors and governments to replicate best practices identified under the project (E.g. The United Nations Foundation (UNF) provided funds (US 98,000) for the Planning Phase of a project (Renewable Energy and e-Sustainability Initiative) which seeks to promote RE-powered rural telecenters in Ghana, based partly on the examples identified and evaluated under the project).

The project has also resulted in the completion of a proposal for a demonstration project that showcases promising RE-powered ICTs (focusing on wireless applications) and deployment strategies in developing regions. Based upon this proposal, an international telecommunications provider has expressed serious interest in providing $1.5m to co-finance implementation of the $2.6 m dollar demonstration project, titled e-Commerce and Renewable Energy (eCARE) for Ghana. A fund-raising effort is underway to raise the remaining US$1.1 m required.