Solar Power is Learning Power

This post is from Bernd Nordhausen who is a solutions architect in the Intel World Ahead program focusing on the Asia Pacific region and on using alternative energy for PC’s.

Over the holiday season I took the opportunity to reflect how our products can touch lives. I am privileged to work in the Intel World Ahead Program. The mission of our group is to “connect people to a world of opportunity.”

While most of us take electricity for granted, there are many people and communities that do not have access to the electrical grid. Intel’s new vision is to “… to create and extend computing technology to connect and enrich the lives of every person on earth,” it does not say, only the lives of those with access to grid power.

Solar power is one of the alternative energy sources that is abundant in many areas that are lacking a stable source of electricity. Yet until recently it was just too expensive to deploy solar energy for PC deployments. For example, a school in Cambodia deployed 36 (95WattPeak) solar panels to power 8 computers. I estimate that the solar equipment to power that lab costs at least $30,000, or nearly $4,000 per computer.

Amore_Panel.jpgHowever, we are changing that. For solar powered deployments energy consumption is the key. In solar deployments, the cost is linear related to the power consumption. That is, if you can reduce the energy consumption by 50%, the cost for the solar equipment will be reduced by about 50%. Or even more dramatically, if you can reduce the power consumption of a PC by a factor of 10, you reduce the cost of the solar equipment needed to power the PC by a factor of 10.

So, can we reduce the power consumption by a factor of 10? A typical desktop computer 5 years ago would consume 80-100 Watts of power. The CRT monitor consumed another 70-100 Watts for a total of 150 – 200 Watts. Atom changed the equation. A typical netbook such as the Intel-powered classmate PC can consume as little as 15Watts including the screen. So, by just changing the computer we can reduce the cost of the solar equipment by a factor of 10 or more!!

Amore-PCLab.jpgAnd we are proving this. In Bangladesh, we just completed a deployment of two solar PC Labs. Using an extremely power efficient design, we were able to keep the cost of the solar equipment to a fraction of what was previously possible. The total cost of the solar equipment to run a 10 PC lab for 4 to 5 hours per day was US$2,500 or $250 per PC. In Philippines we worked with the Alliance for Mindanao Off-grid Renewable Energy (Amore) to deploy a PC lab at a rural school in Mindanao. Amore which has been deploying renewable energy to schools and communities in Mindanao for several years did not include PCs in their deployments because they thought it was too expensive. They thought the power consumption of PC’s were too high. Working together we showed that it can be done cost effective, and now Amore is including PC labs in their school deployments.

One question that I often receive is “don’t people in areas without electricity have more pressing needs than computers?” Yes, they do, education, access to information and communications are some of these pressing needs. And guess what? PC’s enable education and communication. Don’t take my word for it, read the words of the students from Marilog Elementary school who now have new opportunities thanks to their solar powered PC lab.

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Now, of course many obstacles remain including affordability, internet access, PC awareness and education. But with the power efficient PC’s, solar power has become feasible, and Intel’s products and Intel’s initiatives pave the road. So, remember that it is not all about numbers, but also about the difference that we can make and the lives that we can touch.

For more information on how to plan for solar energy for PC’s can be found in our white paper “Solar Power for PC Deployments: Enabling ICT Beyond the Grid.”

2 Responses to Solar Power is Learning Power

  1. sankar says:

    Showing the connection between power and computer/bandwidth is a great example. In fact, I would say that if the focus is going to be on reducing power consumption of computer, it automatically means reducing the cost of computer, increasing the bandwidth, etc, etc.

  2. Roscoe says:

    Chris – Excellent program and post. PC access rapidly accelerates the process of community/education growth. The challenge with solar is making it cost-effective and ecologically sustainable on the manufacturing side…