Off-Grid: Renewable Energy Scaled Down

Image courtesy Ed Ou/The New York Times The world of renewable energy—solar panels, especially—is often accompanied by a certain amount of grandeur. Gleaming rooftop arrays appear on immaculate buildings of influential companies in the hearts of bustling cities. Or, as you'll see in our upcoming February issue, on top of an elementary school that has worked exceptionally hard to raise the funds necessary for greening initiatives.

But, what about renewable energy on a small scale? Tiny panels that operate off the grid, offering families the simple pleasure of reading lamps and cell phone chargers?

These are exactly the initiatives addressed in an article from last week's New York Times titled, "In Kenya, Huts Far Off the Grid Glow with Renewable Power." The piece begins by describing the two-mile walk, three-hour motorcycle-taxi ride, 30 cent fee and three-day waiting period required every time Kenya native Sara Ruto wanted to charge her cell phone. But now, thanks to an $80 laptop-sized solar panel that Ruto, that ordeal is over.

The article also describes a number of other off-the-grid, renewable energy initiatives that are taking place in rural areas around the world. While the widespread use of such initiatives is blocked by an inability to distribute the technologies easily and the lack of a business model, there is no denying the simple pleasures and sustaining properties these technologies can offer rural families.