by Chris Kulczycki
Mon Nov 21st, 2005 at 04:17:23 AM EST
Back from the front page ~ whataboutbob
Leapfrogging is bypassing traditional technologies and skipping to something better and often cheaper. It is a way for developing nations, not burdened with existing infrastructure, to rapidly hop into first world systems. And it's starting to work.
An example might be installing wireless communication systems and bypassing all the poles and wires we have here. Another is bypassing coal or gas powered electrical plants, and jumping, instead, straight to renewable power. Yet another is of building an information infrastructure based on open source principles. Much of this leapfrogging comes with the realization that prosperity can come from knowledge rather than capital, or that knowledge is capital.
Of course Leapfrogging works best with certain technologies such as communication, computing, and renewable energy. I wrote last week about how small renewable energy projects are lifting people out of poverty. This week I have some examples of larger systems and longer leaps.
One of the best sites for information about Leapfrogging is worldchanging.com . They even have a category called "leapfrog nation". Here is a good example:
The best-known example of leapfrogging is the adoption of mobile phones in the developing world. It's easier and faster to put in cellular towers in rural and remote areas than to put in landlines, and as a result, cellular use is exploding. As we've noted, mobile phone use already exceeds land line use in India, and by 2007, 150 million out of the 200 million phone lines there will be cellular.
Nepal Wireless is wirelessly networking and connecting remote mountain villages to an ISP. This is a perfect example of a low cost communication system in a rugged area where stringing wires would have been near impossible. The computers used in the Nepal wireless project are often assembled from donated parts in wooden boxes. From a BBC article we learn of the impact of the system in one village.
If we walk about six or seven hours outward in any direction from our village and ask the people there where Nangi is, most of the people will have no idea.
With the simple website we have now, people from around the world have been able to locate my village and have come to volunteer.
We regularly get volunteers from America, Britain, Australia, Singapore, Switzerland and Malaysia. <snip>
In order to connect my village to the internet, I have installed two small hydro-generators in the stream near our village for power for the school. <snip>
I plan to build a college in my village and provide computer courses to the students. This will open a door for us to produce computer programmers in the village, and produce software for the big firms around the world.
The Times (of London) has an article
about Ethiopia's leap into the information age. Ethiopia is spending 10 per cent of its annual GDP on a broadband, satellite-based internet system. That is a staggering sum for a developing nation, but the payoff will be huge.
The Ethiopian government faced some puzzlement four years ago when it embarked upon a plan to bring the worldwide web to every school and local government office, but ministers insist that this is the quickest, most cost-effective way of building a national infrastructure. "If I have to connect the most remote region by road, it will take a long time," says Ato Tefera Waluma, the minister of capacity building. "If you take in a satellite then it's connected. It's the easiest way to do it. We are connecting the citizen who is in the most remote place not only to his next village, but to the whole world." <snip>
Genet Zewdie, the Ethiopian education minister, says this will have a profound social and economic effect on the country. "It will help us to eliminate poverty, because the gap between the rich and the poor is not just money, it's the know-how,"
In another technological leap Angola Press
reports that Zanzibar is studying building a wave or tidal energy plant to provide less expensive electricity.
Dar Es Salaam, 01/05 - Zanzibar is considering the possibility and feasibility of turning Indian Ocean currents and waves into electric power to make the utmost of its geological position as an archipelago off east Africa.
If the initial study proves viable, the Zanzibar Utilities Company will build a power plant on the Pemba Island, one of the three major islands consisting the archipelago, which enjoys a history of strong currents and tidal waves.
The company expects to resort to power generated from tidal waves or ocean currents to turn the table against its loss-making situation. It now spends an average of 200 million Tanzanian shillings (200,000 US dollars) per month to generate power via gas turbines whereas it collects 60 million shillings (60,000 dollars) for its power supply.
In South Africa rural electrification is already going solar. Again, these small systems are easier to install and maintain than traditional grids. While we're digging coal to make electricity they will getting it free. This from Renewable Energy Access:
Dutch energy company Nuon said it has signed an agreement with the South African government for the installation of 8,000 solar energy systems in the South African province of KwaZulu Natal over the next two years. No financial details were disclosed. The systems will be installed by NuRa, a joint venture of Nuon and local energy company RAPS. Nuon has already installed 6,000 solar energy systems in South Africa which supply electricity to households and small businesses. The South African government has set up an incentive program so that investors can supply affordable electricity to sparsely populated areas without a grid. Nuon said the electricity supplied by its systems is cleaner and safer than the oil lamps and paraffin lamps which are currently the only alternatives.
Leapfrog technology need not be high-tech. Several developing countries are building bio-fuel plants. Without billions tied up in refineries and big oil lobbying against it, alternate fuel is easy to promote. On the little Pacific island group of Vanuatu, as well as in the Philippines, coconut oil is replacing diesel fuel. From onecountry.org:
The country's chief exports are agricultural: copra, kava, beef, cocoa, timber, and coffee. The population of some 200,000 people is more than 94 percent indigenous Melanesian, and some 80 percent live in rural areas. The per capita income is about US$1,200 a year.
"For every ton of diesel fuel that we can offset, we can put back some $200 into the local economy. And at those prices, people could earn a very good living cutting copra," said Mr. Deamer.
Government officials agree that the project has great potential.
"This is really a great idea," said Leo Moli, head of the energy unit within the Vanuatu Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources. "Because it goes all the way back to the farmers who plant and cut coconut. And, if it succeeds, there will be a reduction in the importation of fossil fuels, especially diesel fuel. And this is important."
All over the world people are bypassing the long road to development, from subsistence farmer to making tennis shoes to building bigger factories, to stringing miles of phone wire, to digging coal and building electrical plants and on and on. Instead they're starting to leap straight from subsistence farmer to software engineer.
Much of this is possible not only because of new technology, but because the open-source movement makes it affordable. The first Swahili language office suit is not Microsoft Office, but Open Office. Their computers run Linux, not XP. Communications are by virtually free VOIP. Even textbooks are open source.
Energy technology is in the midst of a similar revolution. Without a huge infrastructure to replace, lighting can be via LED or florescent fixtures that use a fraction of the power of incandescent lights. Computers are being designed that use 5 watts of power instead of 100. Traditional electrical grids are bypassed in favor of micro-grids. The first cars in a village may already run on biofuel.
As the oil economy comes to a close and knowledge continues to replace traditional capital, we may find ourselves looking to Uganda, or India, or Ethiopia as an example of how to proceed.