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.

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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.

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