Going Off-Grid In PNG: Solar Solutions to Energy Poverty

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“It is energy that lights the lamp that lets you do your homework, that keeps the heat on in a hospital, that lights the small businesses where most people work. Without energy, there is no economic growth, there is no dynamism, and there is no opportunity.” Rachel Kyte, World Bank Vice President.

We know that access to energy is vital in the struggle against poverty.

Modern, accessible energy sources are fundamental to a community’s wellbeing and to a country’s development – yet globally 1.3 billion people are still without access to electricity. Indeed to meet the United Nations’ goal of bringing clean electricity to all people by 2030 the world needs to double current spending, which is estimated at $400 billion per year.

The story is no different in Papua New Guinea:

  • Only 12.4% of Papua New Guineans are on the electricity grid; and only 3.7% of the rural population is connected. Leaving 6.3 million people without access to the energy needed to meet their basic needs.

Lack of reliable energy is limiting people’s ability to undertake daily activities like household chores, reading, schoolwork, conducting business at night, and increases safety and security risks, especially for women.

  • There are more than 1.3 million off-grid households not currently using solar devices for their lighting needs.

Given the tremendous logistical, cost and geological challenges in PNG, creating a traditional national electrical grid is not a solution. Off-grid options such as solar are both cost effective and far more accessible to communities. The market is huge and we know there is the demand for small, durable solar devices.

  • 88% of PNG households have access to a mobile phone but have little capacity to charge it.

The mobile phone, perhaps only usurped by the jerry can, has had an incredible impact on global poverty. Whether it is communication, safety, or mobile financial services the cell phone can empower communities. Charging them, however, is an entirely different challenge. Communities need to have access to small and affordable solar charging systems to maximize the benefits of greater and greater access to mobile and Internet coverage.

  • Papua New Guinean households combined spend an average of $150 million a year on off-grid lighting

So how do the 1.3 million households access lighting? Kerosene, diesel, biomass (wood), battery powered torches and candles are all too often the answer. These expensive non-renewable sources create a huge strain on households already stressed budgets. Kerosene, in particular, drives off-grid lighting costs. It is sold at between $4-6 per litre in rural areas (twice the price at which it is sold in urban areas) and prices have increased 30% over the past 5 years. An average household may consume between 2-4 litres per week – do the math and we can see the financial pressure that puts on families.

  • Currently it is estimated that only 2% of households use solar for their lighting needs

As solar technology has progressed devices are becoming more durable, sustainable and affordable. A $25 dollar solar light investment by a family will be repaid after 4-6 weeks of use at the current market price for kerosene. Beyond that a family potentially frees vital funds to investment elsewhere, such as a child’s education or better healthcare.

  • 55% of PNG’s rural households live more than 5km from a national road so obtaining fuel for lighting can be a time-consuming task that requires traveling long distances.

This activity is often undertaken by women, reducing the time they have available for income-generating activities. Again, by running the numbers we see that investing in solar lighting is not only a financial benefit to a family, but also frees up an extraordinary amount of time that can be used on other critical household tasks.

  • Children in newly solar powered homes remain awake longer each day and use 38% of their additional time for studying and reading

This is proven time and again. Solar lighting inside a household provides children with the time needed to study, read and further their education. And nothing is more powerful in combatting inter-generational poverty than education.

There is an emerging opportunity to provide clean, sustainable and affordable lighting solutions to under-served and off-grid communities in PNG through quality solar lighting and energy systems. We are at the forefront of this and we have grand plans to go to scale. But that requires investment; your investment in a PNG not burdened by a lack of access to energy.

Cory Steinhauer, General Manager, KTF