A low-cost energy solution for PNG
Kevin McQuillan meets a solar-energy expert who says the technology can deliver many benefits to PNG’s rural and remote communities.
Solar power must be provided to rural communities for the Papua New Guinean government to achieve its energy goal of power to 70 per cent of the population by 2030, according to Jon Pittar, managing director of Solar Solutions PNG.
Since entering the market in 2013, the solar provider has sold thousands of home lighting systems to rural and remote communities, as well as street and security lighting in rural and city environs.
“We’re in tough economic times,” Pittar says. “With approximately only 10 per cent of the population in formal employment, people are restricted in how much they have to pay for power. Solar can provide a low-cost alternative.”
Pittar says the cost of laying the wires for a fully operational grid is in excess of PGK100,000 per kilometre and it then costs up to PGK2400 to take the power from source to the houses, and then people have to pay for a meter, and then they have to pay for power.
He says historically in PNG minigrids haven’t been successful and are an expensive option in which a fault in the system will affect all users. Individual housing units mean, on the other hand, that if a problem occurs, it only affects one unit and is easily repaired.
“We have to recognise in PNG that a large portion of the community aren’t going to be able to pay for power, so if we want to assist them to get better outcomes for health, better outcomes for education, they need to be provided home lighting systems in order to assist in their economic development.
“You give a community lighting and communication and that community is going to develop.
“So in five years’ time, 10 years’ time, there is going to be a demand for 240-volt power and mini-grids. But you’ve got to help give them a kickstart.
“We still believe 12V home lighting systems are the most affordable and scalable way to get basic power and lighting to the rural communities.”
Pittar, who is also the vicepresident of the recently formed Solar Energy Association of PNG, says the banks want property as collateral before they will lend, and small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) are usually unable to offer this.
He’s hoping the International Finance Corporation (IFC) will do in PNG what it has done in some other smaller Pacific nations and will act as a guarantor for SMEs in the solar sector who have a proven track record.
The range of 12V solar products has expanded since solar was first introduced into PNG six years ago.
Initially, it was home lighting kits, but Solar Solutions PNG now has a total program for village electrification, which consists of four lights, phone charging, accessories like TVs for schools and biomass cooking stoves. ■
You give a community lighting and communication and that community is going to develop.
A light- bulb moment … rural communities in PNG stand to benefit from solar lighting.