Uganda’s ICT Minister Nsambu promotes solar power for PCs

Computing

In an interview with eLearning Africa, ICT State Minister for Uganda John Chrysostom Alintuma Nsambu talked about how solar and battery power should be used for PCs in the African context.

Q: Uganda’s PC users, for instance, face many difficulties due to electrical blackouts. From your point of view, what should be done to improve the situation?

A: To improve the power generation situation nationwide will take some time. Hydro-electric dams are not built over night. But in the mean time, a number of things that can be done that will have positive impacts. These include reducing power consumption when power is available by using low-power-consuming electrical devices like energy-efficient lighting, introducing low-power computers that do not require cooling and use less power, and undertaking various other energy-saving activities. When power is conserved, more power becomes available when the power grid is available.

It also becomes much more economical to install backup power and solar solutions to support the operations of computers that use less power. One of the reasons solar power is used so infrequently is that the cost of the solar panels and batteries required to run a standard computer is very high. However, if we can reduce power consumption to one-tenth of current usage, the cost for the solar system and batteries is reduced by ninety percent as well. This is what frequently makes new, power-efficient computers cheaper than refurbished ones when taking the total cost of ownership into account.

Q: You are also acting as an ICT entrepreneur in order to better conditions in rural Uganda. Could you please tell us a bit about your personal solar-PC activities?

A: Generally, I see myself as an agent of change in the way we do things in Africa. In other words, I am the agent who tells Ugandans that a PC meant for Americans cannot be meant for our people because they do not have power problems like we do. Consequently, as Africans we have to decide between buying "Hummers" - if PCs were cars - and Toyota Coronas. I would go for a metaphoric Toyota as long as we know that our basic problem is to learn how to utilize PCs properly. Today, most people in Uganda and Africa in general buy PCs that are too expensive to run and maintain, and, in fact, they are simply a replacement of the old typewriters in their offices. Since this is the case, why not buy a simple, efficient low-power computer? Through my aggressive promotion of solar or battery PCs, I want to challenge the big boys in the industry to manufacture applied technology that meets our specific needs. Once this happens, I am a good agent for the people of Uganda and Africa.

Q: I’ve read that Inveneo is among your partners in your ICT projects. What is their role?

A: Inveneo, a non-profit social enterprise based in San Francisco, California, designs ICT solutions for rural and remote areas, especially in Africa. Inveneo has worked in Uganda for two-and-a-half years, piloting and deploying low-power ICT equipment in rural areas. The experience gained during this time has led to the development and release of the current computer, the Inveneo Computing Station. Requirements were gathered from NGOs, education facilities, small businesses, and last but not least the Ministry of ICT.

Q: What does their PC solution look like, and how does it work?

A: The Inveneo solution is a very tiny computer that can run for three days without recharging, assuming the user works for eight hours per day. Its central processing unit is half the size of an ordinary Bible. It is Internet-ready with wireless capabilities and has a solar panel, the size of a palm, for recharging the battery within fifteen minutes. The main advantage, however, is that six Inveneo computers use the same amount of electricity as a single conventional computer. Moreover, the cost is much lower than that of a common PC: about US$400. Personally, I see solutions like this as a very important step towards overall access for all the students in our country and on this continent

Q: Do you have any plans for further development or do you see any major breakthroughs in the near future?

A: Once our call for appropriate applied technology - using available resources and providing IT access for our children – is answered, we will move to the next step of building computers in Uganda ourselves, based on our needs and affordability. We also want to make strong IT content for those PCs so that our children learn to be innovative and creative. We also want to use ICT as an industry to generate wealth. The first step for all of these aspirations is to teach young generations how to use the keyboard and to hold the mouse.

(SOURCE: eLearning Africa)