An Idea Full Of Rocks

Literally.

The gravity light. Light made by lifting rocks. I wonder why nobody else thought of that?

Gravity Light: Our Renewable Energy Future

One thing that’s pretty obvious is that these people seeming have never been without electricity for an extended period of time.  Or have any feeling for technical history. This “great invention” is nothing more than a clockwork.  The kind of thing that’s been around for hundreds of years.  Yet the device is being lauded almost as the second coming.

http://www.engineering.com/DesignerEdge/DesignerEdgeArticles/ArticleID/13777/GravityLight-Brings-Clean-Energy-to-Kenya.aspx

This device fails on the basic issues of stuff that you sell or give to third worlders. One it’s too fragile.  All that plastic stuff breaks remarkably easily.  From the looks of it, it’s thrown together like just about everything these days without considering where it’s going to end up.  That’s Ok for a first world gimmick that will get tossed in a few months.  For something that’s expected to last years, not so much.  They should have considered different materials than thin plastic and nylon.

Second is that it can’t be repaired from local resources.  Something made for the third world has be able to be repairable if it’s going to last. I give this thing six month tops and then it’s just garbage.  There’s no way to repair the complicated mechanism when it breaks and it will break.  Furthermore, it looks like it was very nicely designed with the best current product philosophy, which means that it isn’t designed to come apart.

Third the thing is inflexible.  One trait of the stuff that works in the third world is that things get retrofitted and reused.  An old car becomes a donkey cart, a grinder becomes a table saw when it’s mixed with a chainsaw blade.  Lawn mower engines become the motors for railcars.  You look at the third world and all over you see people retrofitting themselves out of poverty with endless recombinations of machines finding new lives as something else. If you want to make something work that makes a difference you need to think about possibilities.

Fourth, the devices can’t be made primarily from local resources. A while back there was a young man who built a series of wind turbines from scrap and a book.

Teen’s DIY Energy Hacking Gives African Village New Hope

This is typical of how you do things in the third world.  If you want to improve things there, you have to provide them with tools and skills, not gimmicks.  The things that we take for granted here in the first world may not even exist in many places in the third world.  There are so many things that could be done, yet all too often what is proposed is yet another first world feel good cheap plastic thing that will never actually stand up to the rigors of third world life.

Fifth , it doesn’t really change anything. Replacing small amounts of kerosene with manual labor accomplishes nothing.  You would be far better off providing lamps that use kerosene more efficiently by having mantles and chimneys.  Along with setting up glass foundries.  In the long run it might be more cost effective to make up tablets with bootstrapping tips.

The gravity light is just another form of cultural imperialism and the kind of soft headed romanticism that pervades Progressive circles.  It has all the earmarks with the artsy inventor, the calls for sustainability and being renewable.  Various organizations  can support this and feel less guilty about themselves without actually having to do anything that’s disruptive or cause any real change.  All this does is make light a little more expensive for the people who can least afford it while making people in the first world feel good about themselves.  Like so many “green” ideas, the idea is full of rocks.

 

 

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One comment

  1. Jon Carry · December 1

    I think it is much better to keep infantilizing the Third World. That way they will be stuck in their poverty forever, always available for our eco-tours!

    Like

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