More and cheaper energy is in every imaginable way the key to making the world a better place

I was saddened to learn that Hans Rosling died on 7th February. Hans Rosling was an academic, medical doctor, and statistician. He might be best known for his talk “The best stats you’ve ever seen”, given 10 years ago, and which helped popularise TED in its early days as a forum for insightful, clever, and forward-looking ideas.

Far less viewed, but more worth watching, is his talk “The magic washing machine”.

You should take a 10 minute break from reading this, watch it, and the short Google advert at the end, actually, and then return to this piece.

In case you don’t, the point of Rosling’s talk is that household electrical appliances allow us more time to enrich our lives in other ways.

This isn’t an original observation. Adam Smith relates a story in the Wealth of Nations about how with the first fire engines a boy was kept employed at all times to open and shut a particular valve on the machine. The boy then discovered he could tie a string to the handle of the valve and the work was done automatically, allowing him time to play with his friends.

It is not at all discussed how that boy might have made himself redundant in more than one sense of that word, but oh well...

Still, Rosling’s point is well worth making and less focussed on what some might perceive as cold economics.

The Google advert tells the story of a farmer in Soy, Kenya, called Zach Matere. Access to information saves his crops and transforms his community.

More machines means more time, more education, and the power to make the world a better place in every way imaginable.

Of course, computers and the internet need electricity. So do washing machines. And if everyone is to have these things, freeing up more time and labour, allowing us to enrich ourselves both materially and intellectually, the world will need more electricity and it will need to be affordable.

So what is the scale and nature of the problem of providing everyone with more and affordable electricity?

The United Nations estimates that a fifth of the world population still lack access to electricity. That’s about 1.5 billion people, or double the entire population of the European continent. As you’d expect, they’re mostly to be found in poorer, developing nations.

These are nations which often have a poor grid network and rely on expensive, fault-prone, carbon-emitting, health-risking diesel fuel generators.

And what does the cost look like? In 2009, in Nigeria, about 7.8% of GDP was spent on electricity generation from diesel fuel generators – that’s just diesel fuel generation. This compares to about 2.8% of GDP in the much wealthier United Kingdom for all sources of energy in 2015 – all sources.

H2Go Power is conscious of these problems and is working on a clever solution.

Our battery will last 10 times longer than today’s lithium ion technology. This will provide a power source that is much more potent and portable, reducing reliance on or the need to build a complicated and expensive grid.

That said, the battery also has the potential to vastly improve storage capacity for electricity grids. In sun-rich countries it can improve the efficiency of solar (and wind) generation by 25%.

All of this makes electricity generation much cheaper. Projects like H2Go Power will bring people the washing machine.

And it’s all the better our battery uses water – it’s cheap, plentiful, and it’s good for addressing climate change as well as urban public health issues.