But besides light, developing nations are struggling with many other issues that researchers and technology companies are trying to address. Better food security and improved access to clean water and air are just a few examples of the areas targeted by technologies that will be making a mark by 2020, according to a list published by not-for-profit foundation the World Economic Forum. SciDev.Net spoke to some of the companies on this list and a few others to forecast what is likely to happen in the world of technology in developing countries over the coming year.
Solar panel cleaning robots
Eran Meller, CEO of Ecoppia, says the market for solar panels is ripe with opportunity in desert-rich regions across the Middle East, India and South America. Unfortunately, these areas are also prone to frequent dust storms, leaving solar installations vulnerable to extreme levels of soiling. Dust can reduce the effectiveness of solar panels by up to 35 per cent, and up to 60 per cent after a strong dust storm, significantly reducing the economic benefits of solar power.
“In 2015, we will see a rise in innovative, water-free cleaning technologies that rely on robotics rather than manual labour.”
The current methods of cleaning dirty solar panels are labour-intensive and require a significant amount of water: cleaning a 100 megawatt installation, for example, can cost US$58 million and waste nearly 420 million litres of water throughout the project lifetime. To lower the labour-related costs of solar power and conserve our precious water resources, we must find a technological solution to overcome performance challenges of desert-sited plants. In 2015, we will see a rise in innovative, water-free cleaning technologies that rely on robotics rather than manual labour and protect the world’s water supply for the communities and crops that need it most.
Self-powered water purification
Matthew Silver, CEO of Cambrian Innovation, says 40 per cent of the world’s population are affected by water scarcity. Nowhere is this felt more strongly than in the developing world, where lack of infrastructure has led to a lack of access to clean, potable and usable water. Pioneering companies are responding to this need. We expect self-powered water purifying systems will start taking hold in the developed world in 2015. New financing methods for deploying such systems — such as performance-based leasing models, rather than outright system ownership — will be instrumental in driving energy and water savings. One example is Cambrian Innovation’s advanced biotechnology solution, EcoVolt, which can cost-effectively clean contaminated water while generating renewable biogas, thus recovering a valuable energy source that is otherwise discarded.
Improving air quality
Rick Rutkowski, CEO of ClearSign says around the globe, surgical masks and anti-inflammatory inhalers are becoming must-have accessories. When we look at the latest figures coming from the WHO, it’s clear that the need to address air quality has never been greater. Unfortunately, some of the biggest sources of pollution are the systems powering our daily lives. The combustion of hydrocarbons in boilers, furnaces, kilns and turbines creates pollutants like nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and particulate matter. If we can’t break our reliance on traditional fuels, how can we clean them up before it’s too late?
Regulators are playing their part by tightening air quality mandates, but traditional solutions to reduce emissions are outdated, expensive and unable to meet impending targets. In 2015, we will see technological innovations designed to reach environmental goals in a more practical way, now and in the future. Aimed at economically reducing the formation of pollutants, these emerging technologies are the key to helping regulatory bodies and industrial organisations see eye to eye for the first time. From manufacturing leaders like China and Mexico to oil-rich nations across the Middle East, finding a low-cost, high-impact solution to air pollution control will help us all breathe a little easier.
Recycling water from fracking
Riggs Eckelberry, CEO of OriginOil says the treatment and reuse of water used in ‘fracking’ is set to take off in the United States, where the market will be tripling between now and 2020. We are seeing even more explosive adoption rates, however, in oil-rich developing countries, as they are just beginning to frack. This is the case in Oman, for example, where oil majors are being required to observe stringent new regulations as fracking begins in the region. In 2015, we will see hydraulic fracturing continue to take off in the developing world. This will be coupled with water treatment and reuse that will greatly mitigate the effect of the practice on populations and ecologies in developing regions.
Additional reporting by Fiona Dennehy.
> Link to the World Economic Forum’s predictions