He just likes a good puzzle.
Ashok Gadgil is a professor at UC Berkeley. But in his spare time, he’s come up with solutions for water, cooking, and energy quandaries, improving lives from the Sudan to India. How’s he do it? He just likes a good puzzle.
If you’re a lucky inventor, maybe you come up with one big thing that makes an impact on people. Ashok Gadgil, the winner of the 2012 $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation, has produced two inventions that have changed the lives of people in the developing world, and is now working on a third. How has he pulled this off?
It helps that Gadgil, a professor in the Department of Civil Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, has a science background. But his explanation is fairly simple: “In each case it was becoming aware of how serious the problem was and then being aware that actually there is some technical solution that could help. It’s like you find a puzzle, but the nice thing about this puzzle is that if you solve it you’re making people’s lives better.”
Gadgil started his career helping developing countries not with an invention, but with a program to promote utility-sponsored energy efficiency. In most developing countries, customers don’t have enough money to pay the full price on electricity, so they get subsidized rates from the government. But when efficient energy technology isn’t subsidized, there’s no incentive for residential customers to use it (using compact fluorescent light bulbs, for example). “My solution was to point out to utilities that if you spend a little amount of money for efficient lamps, you will be selling less subsidized electricity and you get to keep more money,” explains Gadgil.
The idea, which Gadgil hatched in the late 1980s, was a success: over 100 million people participate in these utility-sponsored CFL programs in dozens of countries, including Algeria, Cuba, India, Iraq, Panama, Russia, Sudan, and Mexico.
Bookmark this page for “developing world issues” and check back regularly as these articles update on a very frequent basis. The view is set to “news”. Try clicking on “video” and “2” for more articles.