Energy comes home – enjoy a case study from Central Africa in 2035

The road to the new era of electricity is bumpy and overgrown by high grass. The bush rises up on both sides of the dirt road like a solid multicolored wall. Now and then a clearing appears, giving us a view of a giraffe or two as we almost soundlessly roll past. For some time now, the bush taxis here in central Africa have been electric. If our battery should give out in rough terrain, a small combustion engine can extend our vehicle’s range. At the wheel is district physician Dr. Salim Taylor, who is our tour guide for today. He has a rather unhealthy lifestyle for a doctor — there’s always a cigar in the corner of his mouth, and his driving style is almost as wild as the surrounding landscape. But hardly anyone else on this side of the equator is as well informed about this country’s development and inhabitants as he is. Taylor is on the way to his weekly outpatient clinic in a remote village, where he plans to view the initial results of a development program that has literally electrified the village.

“Rats!” curses Taylor as the right front wheel suddenly disappears into a very deep pothole. “This is the tenth aardvark hole since we left the gravel road.” He pulls out a fresh cigar and lights it with a snap of his lighter. “This ‘road’ doesn’t deserve its name, but the village up ahead has really changed unbelievably,” he says. Taylor knows this better than anyone else, because he was there last year when technicians catapulted the village from its Stone Age past into the new age of electricity. He advised the government officials in charge of the project and provided support for the villagers.

Previously, the village had in effect been cut off from the outside world, without electricity or access to communication networks — an anachronism that has become rare today, even in Africa. Through its new program for sustainable development in remote regions, the government is trying to remove the “empty spaces” from the country’s map. “It’s a question of evolution rather than revolution,” says Taylor. “We’re not trying to abolish the village’s social structures and traditions; instead, we aim to improve people’s living conditions.”

He points to the vegetation on both sides of the road. “Have you noticed? Even though we’ve already almost reached the village, the overgrowth is still as thick as ever. A few years ago the area around the village was completely deforested — but today the people no longer need to gather firewood.” Taylor puffs out a cloud of cigar smoke and bumps through yet another pothole. The bush slowly thins out, revealing a view of a vast plain. We descend from a small hill, at whose foot lies the village.

At first glance the collection of round huts looks more traditional than progressive. However, in the savanna behind the village stand three wind turbines turning lazily in the light breeze. And in the middle of the village is an eye-catching modern building with rooftop solar cells flashing in the sun. What’s more, a closer look reveals rows of metal poles that support LED streetlights.

“We’ve arrived,” says Taylor with a smile, then climbs out of the vehicle with a grunt of relief. “That’s the medical center,” he says, pointing to the building with the solar cells. “It has a cooling and air conditioning system that is solar-powered and uses an absorption refrigerator. The system keeps the building refreshingly cool. But today we’re making house calls.” He pulls a tablet PC out of his pocket and greets Abdul, the village mayor. “Abdul is something like a paramedic. He keeps regular records of how my patients in the village are doing and sends me the data by radio. The data might consist of photographs of the findings or the results of blood tests he carries out with automatic test devices no larger than a cell phone. So I’m always well-informed about my patients’ current state of health.”

On the way to the first patient we pass a cylindrical container flanked by a couple of electric charging stations. “That’s our biogas power plant,” says Abdul proudly, tapping the side of the tank. “We feed it with plant clippings and manure. The bacteria in the tank use it to produce methane, which is then automatically turned into electricity. Together with the wind turbines, this power plant makes us energy self-sufficient.” He points to the charging stations and says, “Don’t forget to unplug your vehicle when you’ve finished, Salim!”

As we approach the patient’s round grass-roofed hut, we can hear soft music. The pot simmering on the stove gives off a spicy aroma, and an LED lamp hangs from the ceiling. “Aardvark stew,” says Taylor with satisfaction as he takes a look at his tablet PC. “My young patient is obviously doing better.” He points to a boy lying on a bed, who looks to be about twelve years old. “Does he have malaria?” I ask. “We’ve hardly seen any cases of malaria since the last round of vaccinations,” Taylor answers. “Snake bites aren’t so critical any more either. Thanks to the stable power supply, we now have refrigeration at the medical center. This allows us to stock enough serum and other medications to take care of many conditions. Now that the village has entered the age of electricity, the villagers are no longer as vulnerable as they were before. Previously, if an accident happened there was no way to get help. Today, people can call for help on a cell phone or get to the medical center on an electric bike. This boy was such a case. He was riding his bike without a helmet and had a crash that gave him a concussion.”

he doctor shines a flashlight into the boy’s eyes. “Was he going too fast?” I ask. “He hit an aardvark hole,” Taylor grins and nods to the woman at the stove, who is holding out a ladle of stew for him to sample. “By the way, the cause of the accident didn’t survive the crash.”

One comment

  1. sounds quiet imaginary or not ?

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