The biggest obstacle to powering off-grid homes is infrastructure.
The problem, specifically in sparsely populated areas, is a lack of power lines. Without lines going to a remote power grid, many communities lack the access they need to electricity. Entire villages can stay dark. But there are ways around that.
A startup called Off-Grid Electric is looking to use cheap rooftop solar panels for energy in rural parts of Africa, instead of building expensive infrastructure.
Off-Grid Electric is a for-profit company started by Xavier Helgesen in 2012, who had the idea for the company when he was traveling through Malawi to meet clients for his bookselling company, according to NPR.
The village happened to be entirely off the grid, people made heavy use of kerosene lamps and lived entirely without electricity, even though some of the villagers owned electrical appliances, that’s the experience that led Hegelsen to start the company.
The solution that Off-Grid offers is a pay-as-you-go program with a $6 installation fee for solar panels that sit on a household’s roof. The package also includes a meter that keeps track of how much energy each household is using, as well as LED lights, a radio, and a phone charger.
Customers pay for electricity as they use it and can use mobile payment apps to pay bills. In an interview with NPR, Helgesen said his company has been closely watching how people use their electricity.
For instance, the company learned to not to ask households how much wattage they think they’ll use — measuring consumption is foreign to many people. Instead, Off-Grid asks what appliances they want to power. That way, the company gives its customers a more bespoke solution.
The company says it’s lighting up some 50,000 homes a month, with a goal of reaching 1 million African homes by 2017. Off-Grid currently covers parts of Tanzania, and the company is planning to expand to Rwanda within the year. Eventually, it will expand beyond the African continent.
Off-Grid isn’t the first effort to bring solar-powered local energy to rural and developing areas. A startup called Watly, for example, makes self-contained solar power reservoirs that act like self-service hubs for communities where people can charge their phones, use the internet, and access other services.
There are multiple ways to tackle the problem. And as long as companies can listen to users’ needs and reconcile cultural barriers, technology can be a real solution.
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With the arrival of new and powerful technologies, and the declining costs of these technologies, some new possibilities are emerging for cities and their transport systems. For example, the Internet of Everything (IoE) can benefit cities by connecting people, processes, data, and things as “everything” comes online. This is creating unprecedented opportunities for organizations, individuals, communities, and countries to realize dramatically greater value from networked connections—including economic growth and improvements to environmental sustainability, public safety, the delivery of public services and productivity. The potential here is for cities to become truly transformed.
What are some of the specific ways that the Internet of Everything is changing cities?
Here are three stories that demonstrate the opportunity.
Metrolinx Builds a State of the Art Connected Rail
On a daily basis, Metrolinx, a government agency of Ontario, moves an average of 271,000 people via their mass transit system. With the opening of Union Pearson Express, a rail link between Toronto Pearson Airport and Union Station, Metrolinx wanted to incorporate digital technology to make this a high quality express rail service.
The Union Pearson Express opened in June 2015 with free passenger Wi-Fi, onboard infotainment, and onboard fair collection and validation. Leveraging advanced IP Command and Instant Connect technology, Metrolinx has consolidated all voice over IP calls to the control center. They have also integrated all passenger intercoms and public address systems. But that was just the start. They are currently designing full on-board end-to-end network infrastructure to support all operational and passenger systems including CCTV, Public Address, Fare Collection, Infotainment and visual next stop announcements.
As part of the second phase of their digital transformation, Metrolinx is investigating the feasibility of implementing a private carrier-grade fiber network infrastructure to support signaling, communications, Passenger Wi-Fi, track-side telemetry, and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems.
San Diego Metropolitan Transit System Improves the Rider Experience
Many of the most interesting experiments build on public-private partnerships (PPPs) between local agencies and the private sector. As outlined in a recent report from a program organized by the non-profit Meeting of the Minds, PPPs in transport are already having a real impact.
For example, Ireland-based tech company Davra Networks is working with the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) to transform the rider experience.
As San Diego’s local provider of bus and light rail vehicles, San Diego MTS covers approximately 3,200 square miles and serves nearly 100 million riders every year. Striving to improve the quality of service to their riders, MTS looked to provide them with accurate, to-the-minute, next train arrival information.
To increase the accuracy of information and improve customer experience, MTS partnered with Cisco and Davra Networks for a combined solution. Currently, MTS is building out an optical network and will be testing Industrial Integrated Services Routers to give them real time GPS of the trains. With these Industrial Integrated Services Routers and Davra’s RuBAN platform, MTS will track the positions of their trains in real time, all while sending data seamlessly to over 200 digital signs across MTS train stations. This combined solution will give riders access to accurate information and data like never before.
DHL Connects Its Entire Supply Chain to Improve Operations and Service to Customers
Every day, logistics companies move, track, and stow millions of shipments. As each shipment moves along its journey, it is touched by numerous machines, vehicles, and people. Making sure that goods arrive in time, at the right place, and intact—this requires knowing where everyone and everything is. That is a tall order.
One of the world’s three largest movers of urban freight, DHL has been working to improve this process. One way they’ve attacked this problem is by dramatically improving the day-to-day, minute-by-minute decision making that occurs inside warehouse operations.
The idea here is simple: Reducing the number of truck rolls, reducing carbon emissions, reducing the number of vehicles needed: all of this can happen if and when DHL changes the way it starts the delivery process.
Using a technology known as Connected Mobile Experiences (CMX), DHL tracks the location of all people and assets along the supply chain in real time. The high-density wireless network collects aggregate location data on the Wi-Fi connected devices that include pallets, packages, conveyor belts, vehicles, and more. Connecting pallets will be a driver for smarter inventory management and the tracking of goods becomes faster, more accurate, predictive, and secure.
New kinds of connections will make warehouse operations more efficient and ensure a safer work environment. Connected cameras can detect damaged goods. Visibility into inventory levels will prevent costly out-of-stock situations. Telemetry data from vehicles will enable predictive maintenance. Sensors on forklifts and pallets can help prevent accidents. Connecting delivery personnel with surrounding vehicles and people generates an opportunity to monetize and optimize the return trip to improve efficiency and service in the last mile delivery. This data will improve overall decision making in warehouse operations with real-time data analytics. It also enables DHL to provide faster, more reliable and cost-effective services for their customers.
With the advent of IoE, Internet connections now extend to physical objects that are not computers in the classic sense. A connected package for example, will be transmitting info in real time which tells its owner the whereabouts and condition of their shipment. A connected truck can intelligently predict its own maintenance needs. A connected street light can sense the presence of cars and send environmental intelligence to drivers. These are just some of many intriguing possibilities for IoE in logistics.
These three stories show how cities and the private sector are leveraging the IoE to connect people, process, data, and things across their entire supply chain to speed efficiency, accuracy, and ultimately customer satisfaction.
Unlike most big companies, Amazon has never published a sustainability report. Recent hires suggest that may be about to change – but will the retailer play ball?
Amazon has a reputation for forward thinking, but when it comes to sustainability, the company has often fallen behind the times. For years, it has weathered criticism over its worker treatment, recycling and other sustainability metrics.
Recently, however, the online retailer has signaled that a change may be on the way. Dara O’Rourke, a leading expert on global supply chains, has joined the company’s sustainability team.
O’Rourke, 48, joins three other notable corporate responsibility executives at Amazon. Kara Hurst, the company’s director of worldwide sustainability and social responsibility, is the former CEO of The Sustainability Consortium; she became Amazon’s first sustainability leader in 2014. Christine Bader, author of The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist, joined Amazon last August. And, in December, the company hired Christina Page, who led energy and sustainability strategy at Yahoo for eight years.
It’s a dream team, of sorts. The question is, will it change Amazon?
“They’ve hired great people,” says sustainability consultant Andrew Winston. “But we really don’t know what they’re doing. Amazon is a very quiet company.”
In keeping with that reputation, Amazon didn’t make any of the executives available for interviews. Hurst and O’Rourke – neither of whom had previously been known for their reticence – declined to respond to questions via email.
Ironically, O’Rourke’s career has largely been about increasing transparency. In the 90s, he drew attention to the issue of sweatshops in developing countries by exposing what he called “exploitative and hazardous working conditions” in factories in China, Vietnam and Indonesia, notably those supplying Nike. He later co-founded Good Guide, which rates the environmental and social performance of consumer products, enabling buyers to make well-informed choices. Since 2003, he has taught environmental and labor policy at the University of California, Berkeley.
Dan Viederman, the chief executive of Verite, a nonprofit that aims to eliminating child labor, slavery and dangerous working conditions from global supply chains, says of O’Rourke: “He’s one of the most knowledgeable and independent people in the field.”
At Amazon, O’Rourke will be a senior principal scientist, leading a team called Sustainability Science, a spokesman for the company said. Amazon now has more than 50 people in its sustainability group, working on six teams: social responsibility, energy and environment, customer packaging experience, sustainability services, sustainability technology and sustainability science. A spokesman declined to elaborate on what each team does, but said the company expects its sustainability operation to grow significantly this year.
There’s certainly plenty to do. For years, Amazon has been mostly absent from the corporate responsibility conversation. In terms of corporate sustainability, Amazon continues to lag behind its competitors in the internet and technology industry, such as Apple and Microsoft, as well as rival brick-and-mortar retailers like Best Buy and Walmart.
Unlike most big companies, it has never published a sustainability report, nor has it reported on its carbon emissions to the CDP, an investor-backed nonprofit that has collected the most comprehensive set of global environmental data. It’s also not made itself a visible player in the environmental arena. Walmart, its biggest retail rival, has partnerships with respected nonprofits like the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and aggressively works to drive efficiencies in its stores and fleet, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its supply chain. Best Buy has an industry-leading electronics recycling program. On recycling, Barbara Kyle, the national coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, has called Amazon the “king of laggards”.
Its human rights record is harder to discern: unlike many companies that rely on global supply chains, Amazon does not disclose its overseas suppliers or publish the results of factory audits. Domestically, it is reputed to be a brutal place to work. Working conditions in its warehouses have been criticized in a series of stories in the Morning Call, a Pennsylvania newspaper, as well as by Mother Jones and Harper’s. White collar workers are under pressure, too, according to an an investigative story last year in the New York Times that was strongly disputed by Amazon.
All of this might have been understandable during Amazon’s startup days, but the company is now 20 years old and – at last count – the seventh largest US company by market capitalization, just ahead of Johnson & Johnson and GE.
That said, Amazon has recently taken steps towards recognizing its social and environmental responsibility. It has invested in wind and solar farms, and says that 40% of its electricity will come from renewable sources by the end of 2016. “They’re now on the short list of companies that buy large amounts of renewables,” says Winston.
The company headquarters are Leed certified, and it promotes recyclable packaging. Citing a single study from 2009, it says online shopping is inherently more environmentally friendly than traditional retailing.
Yet Amazon Prime, a subscription service that offers free shipping and has helped drive the company’s rapid growth, remains a problem according to some environmental advocates. “Free shipping means people don’t think about the consequences of shipping,” says Amy Larkin, a former Greenpeace executive and author of Environmental Debt: The Hidden Costs of a Changing Global Economy. In reality, she notes, shipping isn’t “free” – it requires packaging, generates carbon emissions and may create waste – and a sustainable economy would account for those costs.
It’s not yet clear how Hurst and her team will advance Amazon’s sustainability efforts. But another technology company – Apple – has shown that getting the right people in place can turn around a company’s sustainability practices. Lisa Jackson, the former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief, has worked wonders for Apple, although to do so she needed the backing of the company’s new chief executive, Tim Cook. Apple is now transparent about its supply chain, a major buyer of renewable energy and a visible advocate for climate action.
Speaking of his company’s years of inertia, Cook said that “the time for inaction has passed”. It remains to be seen if, with his new sustainability team, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is echoing the sentiment.
There are several businesses that contribute to climate change. The business owners are very well aware of the harmful effects being caused. They are opting for several methods to control pollution and the waste that is generated. To operate a green business the companies are being part of online service providers.
How online services support green cause
Online services have become a boon for several companies as it supports green cause. Earlier filing system was prevalent in offices and companies but now the files can be easily uploaded and downloaded online. Services, such as conference lines and screen sharing tools, offered by various companies like CheapWritingHelp.com have made it easier to carry out online training and meetings.
Going digital is the need for us and environment
The printing industries have introduced eco-friendly methods of printing. To go digital means choosing green and this step has proved to be beneficial for the environment. Going digital has a good impact on the environment as it reduces maximum chemical and physical waste. At the same time, digital printing is reliable, effective and of high quality.
Going digital means less use of paper
Digital printing requires paper material but the usage is very less. The energy resources required by print media are more and going digital not only saves the resources but reduces the use of paper giving us a healthy environment. Going digital helps in reduction of costs and wastes as well.
Spreading awareness and advertisement
Encouraging the employees to minimize the use of paper by going digital and choosing online services that support green cause will help the environment. Advertisements through internet and mails can be the best methods of spreading awareness.
Using online services means saying no to the paper records. Everything can be done electronically to support green cause. Online services like go green account, e-commerce have benefitted our environment and it’s beings. In short, going digital is need of the hour.
From a dusty warehouse on a working dry dock to a next generation, multi-use innovation hub designed to showcase and enable solutions to South African and African opportunities, the V&A Waterfront’s Workshop17, which officially launched today, is set to lift the veil on African tech and innovation.
The V&A Waterfront has long recognised the importance of the shared economy, and Workshop17 was born of the desire to support start-ups and experienced companies, profit and non-profit entities, and big and small initiatives, in their efforts to create a better future. It will be managed on behalf of the V&A Waterfront by OPEN, a co-working space operator and a partner in the initiative.
Housed on the upper level of the Watershed, the newly launched Workshop17 is home to over 130 tenants so far. These resident member businesses, start-ups and freelancers will all share a collaborative working environment as they work to develop their businesses, products and ideas in the long-term.
With the fastest internet available, eight fully-equipped meeting, teaching and function rooms, and ‘creative spaces’ for idea generation, creative brainstorming, and relaxing – all with incredible views over the dry dock towards Table Mountain – the Workshop17 space has been carefully designed to accommodate its vision of collaboration and modern working.
“Given the V&A Waterfront’s location and diverse visitorship, the Workshop17 platform will provide small entities with the best opportunities,” said David Green, CEO of the V&A Waterfront.
“Workshop17 was a seed of an idea six years ago when we recognised that we could use our resources to foster small business through an innovation hub. Today, the result is a working space with a clear vision that has a very different kind of potential that extends far beyond the walls of Workshop17. We look forward to seeing cutting-edge ideas, plans, developments and solutions that we are certain will come out of this revitalised space.”
Workshop17 has been designed to facilitate a community of talented, passionate and diverse people learning and working together to create new solutions to big and small problems, and will allow interaction between the public, entrepreneurs, innovators and designers, as well as between disciplines, sectors and cultures in its endeavours.
This new innovation hub will have a strong technology and entrepreneurial focus, which is clearly demonstrated among the partners on board for the initiative. Nigerian-born, US-based Julius Akinyemi is a founding member of the Advisory Board of Workshop17, bringing both passion for and experience in entrepreneurship to Workshop17. Based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States and the former Global Director of Emerging Technologies for PepsiCo Inc., Akinyemi will also be the hub’s first Entrepreneur in Residence.
The space itself is home to a coding academy and a growing number of small businesses, many of whom are tech-orientated, all focused on supporting its community of diverse members and associated companies.
“The V&A Waterfront’s investment in Workshop17 is intended for positive social impact, and illustrative of our goal of always investing in a responsible, impactful manner. This is an investment in people and ideas, and not one focused entirely on commercial return,” said Green.
Accelerating technology at Workshop17
The V&A Waterfront has made a strategic decision to support the creation of a tech cluster within Workshop17 to accelerate innovative products that will capitalise on the market opportunities. It also creates a platform to promote the success and rapid growth of local tech start-ups that often go unnoticed by the media.
mLab, Silicon Cape and codeX are key residents of Workshop17, specifically chosen by the V&A Waterfront because their programmes create a highly inclusive, innovative and productive environment, with a focus on growing existing and new technology businesses and creating new skills in the field of technology, all for positive social and economic impact.
“The Waterfront’s support enables us to provide a free platform for emerging coders and entrepreneurs who are often excluded from the buzzing tech ecosystem purely because they are based in townships and lower income communities. Workshop17 will create a truly inclusive environment for this talent to thrive,” said Derrick Kotze, CEO of mLab Southern Africa.
With financial support of the V&A Waterfront, this technology cluster will work to promote and build an entrepreneurial and tech ecosystem in Cape Town and ensure access to Workshop17 for talented, emerging coders and entrepreneurs. It will function as complementary to other Workshop17 events and community activities.
Recently, research firm Gartner released a report on the importance of the Internet of Things (IoT), a buzzword that simply refers to the connectivity of physical objects, devices and products not technically considered computers.
Many of these connected devices are, in fact, elements found along the supply chain – including smart palettes, trucks, refrigerators, home alarm systems, forklifts, even watches and other wearable technology.
Based on the latest available stats, there are currently 15 billion connected devices, with this number set to increase to about 50 billion by 2020. In its research, Gartner points out that this massive increase in internet-connected physical devices will “significantly alter how the supply chain operates.”
It is critical to point out however, that one of the most crucial elements within this system of connectivity is the software or management systems that link these items. Without effective software management systems to gather, analyse and share this constant flow of information, the Internet of Things has no real benefit to logistics companies.
For companies involved in supply chain and logistics, these controlling systems, apps and technologies are the difference between failed or successful real world deliveries.
The benefits from the Internet of Things means are most profitably leveraged through the real-time access to, and analysis of, more and deeper data. The compiling, evaluating and sharing of this data amongst various players within the supply-chain ensures for example, in-transit visibility – meaning these smart systems enable companies to make decisions, avert disasters, and manage clients in an incredibly competitive environment.
An application of this kind of system is VSc Solutions’ transport management solution that enables real-time visibility of vehicle movements against a delivery plan, allowing for the proactive management of issues as they arise during the day.
Within the South African transport environment and its specific challenges, the benefits from this type of system are manifold, for example when it comes to the role of drivers within the transport chain. While technology may replace people in many areas of industry, human drivers will still be an integral part of moving goods from one end of the supply chain to the next.
Wearable technology, such as the Apple Watch and other similar technologies, is ready to be applied to supply chains in order to enhance inputs into planning and route compliance software. This technology, integrated into the system, can both protect and monitor drivers, leading to multiple benefits for both drivers and logistics companies.
The key benefits of incorporating Bluetooth and wireless technology into wristbands, similar to watches, center on their ability to measure the rhythm of the wearers’ heart, ensuring reliable information, even being able to ascertain if a driver is under stress. For example, a sudden jump in heart rate will indicate a stressful event such as a hijacking, enabling the control center to send for help in case the driver is unable to raise the alarm.
Ultimately, the Internet of Things, and all the related elements are technological tools that enable businesses to provide better service to customers. In order to remain competative within the regional or global sphere, logistics companies need to embrace these tools and find partners to assist them in leveraging the most possible benefits.
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