All Technology Leapfrogging Is Not the Same (Why Phones ≠ Energy)

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CGDev
CGD conducts research and analysis on a wide range of topics related to how policies and actions of the rich and powerful affect poor people in the developing world.

In the debates over how best to bring electricity to the billion-plus poor people who live every day without it, a common refrain is that we can replicate the telecommunications leapfrog with energy too. It’s an attractive notion. Instead of building telephone landlines, billions of poor people jumped right to mobile phones. Why not just do the same with electricity and, instead of building a grid and big dirty power plants, just go right to off-grid solar? Yet “the supposed analogy between cell phones and distributed solar is misplaced” argues UC Berkeley’s Catherine Wolfram because of (1) cost, (2) benefits of centralized networks, (3) actual development goals, and (4) quality.

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All Technology Leapfrogging Is Not the Same (Why Phones ≠ Energy)