The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Last May, IEEE Spectrum dispatched Contributing Editor Peter Fairley to a remote corner of the Bolivian Andes to accompany a group setting off on a challenging mission. Led by two Canadians, the group was to light up homes and schools in remote, rural villages not connected to the electric grid.

Other projects are also striving to bring electric light to isolated places, but the Canadians--Anthony and Faith Harckham, both 62-year-old retirees--have a unique approach. First, there's the technology: not incandescent or fluorescent lamps, but rather white light-emitting diodes powered by solar panels. Then there's the financing, which depends on a mix of tourism and charity. The Harckhams' funding comes not from governments or corporations but from adventurous people who like traveling to out-of-the-way places. They pay for the lighting equipment and their own travel expenses, and then help install the hardware themselves. So far, this grass-roots system has brought light to hundreds of homes from Peru to Pakistan.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

Keep Reading ↓Show less