For the last 20 years, leveraging of information and communication Technologies (ICTs) has become an integrated element across USAID’s development portfolio. Studies from the World Bank, IFC, and others have documented the economic value of telecommunications. Further, the United Nation’s Broadband Commission has drawn direct linkages between broadband and achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Parallel to this ICT uptake there has been considerable ICT-related innovation. This has substantially reduced both cost and electricity demand. These dynamics are allowing ICTs to be pushed further to reach off-grid rural populations—populations often the focal point of USAID programs.
Extending mobile and broadband access to reach rural populations is a major thrust of the Global Broadband and Innovations (GBI) program. It is within this focus that there are rich opportunities for melding ICT and Clean Energy engagements:
Rural Community Deployments
The GBI program focuses on extending mobile-broadband access to rural communities that are currently without access. This includes working with the private sector, typically the mobile operators by providing technical assistance for deploying these new low-cost low-power solutions. These solutions are suitable for small community-level deployments and are suitable for being powered by clean energy.
Anchor Tenant for Clean Community Power
In addition to extending mobile-broadband into un-served rural communities, there are at present an estimated 600,000 off-grid mobile base stations worldwide—virtually all of which are diesel powered. These base stations, along with the community deployments, provide two opportunities.
- First, for the existing 600,000 base stations there is the possibility to economically migrate a portion of these to clean energy—be it solar, wind, pico-hydro, even bio-fuels. This serves to both lower the carbon footprint, but also to lower operating costs—a critical issue with increasing oil prices.
- Second, for both these existing macro base stations, and the newer community deployments, there is the opportunity to leverage the base station as an anchor tenant for local energy generation. Under this scenario, generating capacity is over-built, allowing for at least a modest level of electricity to be provided into the nearby local community—into a local school, a government office, a health clinic, or a business, etc.
Solar Cell Charging Stations
Where mobile-Internet access either exists or is introduced, there is the local demand for cell phone charging. This represents a local community micro-small business opportunity. But also, in meeting this demand it increases revenues to the mobile operator and thus sustainability. A range of solar-based solutions to meet this need have recently entered the market, some with supporting models.
Solar Computer Labs & iCafés
In addition to access-connectivity, there is the opportunity for melding clean energy with off-grid computer labs, public kiosks, and business solutions. This allows for extending Internet-based services into remote locations—again, relying on clean energy solutions while providing sector-specific support to USAID programs.
The potential for combining Clean Energy with ICT as an important leveraging opportunity for rural development-related programs is a current focus that the GBI program, with several engagements getting underway aimed at achieving scale.
GBI Contact Information
GBI Program Manager, Joe Duncan
+1 (202) 712-0474
Last updated: February 27, 2017