By Jeff McMahon
It’s a popular idea in the energy and climate-change crowd: developing countries can leapfrog the kind of sprawling electrical grid we have in the United States, with its centralized power plants, and go directly to a future in which homes and businesses generate clean electricity from the sun and share it over mini-grids.
Many developing countries leapfrogged the old wired telephone system, after all, and went straight to cellular phones.
But some researchers are discovering that may not be what the developing world wants.
“What we learned over time is that people don’t like the solar panels very much,” University of Chicago economist Michael Greenstone said at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “The sun doesn’t shine all the time. The batteries that are associated with them catch fire and all kinds of nasty things…”
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