It was not long ago that electrical power was the largest barrier to using ICTs in rural areas. Back when desktop computers had big CRT screens, each computer needed 150-200 watts of power. Just turning on a computer required a costly generator and an inverter.
Then lower power computers and LCD screens came out that could run on as little as 20 watts, meaning you could run a desktop computer off a simple car battery – no inverter or generator needed. This revolutionized computer deployments, radically reducing costs and increasing the reach of technology solutions.
Now, with the rise of the tablet, there is another paradigm shift happening. When an iPad can run video for 10 hours of a 42 Amp hour battery or a Kindle runs for 2 months on one charge, and both can be recharged by a small, cheap solar panel, the very concept of electrical power as a barrier to ICT adoption starts to fade away.
This a key realization I had at the San Francisco Technology Salon that asked: What Are the Top 10 Technology Challenges in International Development?
That is not to say that power isn’t still a concern, or that we can now ignore power in deployments, but we are moving from power being an infrastructure problem to a financial problem.
Previously, where we would need to build out a $20,000 full electrical infrastructure to run a computer lab, we can now hand out African designed tablets and either add a solar panel or subsidize the use of private recharging facilities that exist for mobile phones and charge 20-50 Kenyan shillings.
Power is now opex, not capex, and we should be ecstatic.