The Social Web vs. Electrical Grids
Posted on November 10, 2015
When global crises erupt - whether they are natural disasters, riots or the Ebola outbreak - we tend to immediately think big picture solutions. How will governments react? What policies and NGO’s will save the day?
But what if the solution were smaller and less centralised? In fact, new research shows that the data collected by mobile phones could be the fastest, easiest and best way to respond to crisis situations. Because we carry them everywhere, mobiles are the simplest way to track population movement and physical trends in social networks. This under utilised “social web” could be the key to responding rapidly to emergency situations, given the shift towards social mobility.
When mobile phone data is collected in its simplest state - as an interaction between disparate phone numbers, SIM cards and radio antenna codes - and anonymised, it is one of the most efficient ways to map population movement and change. This kind of social information is highly valuable when networking crises and social change occur, and can help governments efficiently determine the degree of a problem and the extent of required relief efforts.
Ironically, the study actually exposed a gaping flaw in the plan to use mobile data for surveying social patterns that wasn’t attributed to mobile phones themselves. The problem was with the electrical grid which is required to charge the mobile phones. In many developing nations, including India and Africa, barely half of their populations have access to the electrical grid, but despite this mobile cell phone adoption continues to rise. Without the capability to keep these phones charged, this wealth of valuable social data is going to waste.
Using the data just to expose gaps in the electrical grid isn’t enough, however; in areas in which demand is growing quickly, new models of energy infrastructure with faster implementation procedures are needed. That’s where Intelligent Energy comes in; it has recently announced a £1.2 billion deal to provide efficient, economical and clean power to over 27,400 telecom towers in India, which will help to keep the grid running reliably, decreasing blackouts and paving the way for a new era of connectivity. India regularly experiences up to 8 hours of grid down time each day, therefore deploying fuel cells as a back up will help to establish a future of energy security.
With that kind of solution, the social web could very well be the future of disaster relief. Isn’t it time for a revolution in connectivity?