By Dr Franziska Curran, October 2019

Electrification

The benefits of access to electricity for a household are well understood - the impact that having household light after dark, having telecommunications, street lighting and fans can be life changing. However the impacts of energy access aren’t just at the household level - improved energy can be an accelerator for economic growth, powering businesses, manufacturing, telecommunications and facilitating trade and connectivity. For these reasons, among others, PNG has the ambition to see 70% of the population electrified by 2030. For these, among other reasons, is why I’m based at Solar Solutions, trying to help expand the social impact of the business, in providing access to improved energy options.

What’s been happening:

There is significant momentum in this space, and the future of electrification in PNG is promising. In 2018 the leaders of PNG, Australia, New Zealand, The USA and Japan signed the PNG Electrification partnership, showing an intention to work together to help PNG achieve its aim, and ensure a principled, healthy electrification ecosystem is developed. As a start, the IFC recently released a report detailing the success to date in uptake of solar products, particularly pico (small-scale lighting products, such as lanterns) solar products. Larger energy generation is expected to be fulfilled by PNG’s healthy renewable resources, including hydropower, solar and biomass. It sure is an exciting time to be a distributor of energy solutions in PNG!

The challenges:

But it's not anticipated to be easy! Over 80% of PNG lives rurally, and by rural, we mean remote! Some of the communities we are talking about are a few hours flight, half a day of driving and a few days walk from Port Moresby. In many parts of the country, the remoteness is in part due to, and exacerbated by, challenging terrain - whether it is mountainous, jungle or coastal islands. The country’s diversity means that a range of diverse electrification pathways will need to be followed. It is well understood that extending the main electricity grid will not be the whole solution, and a large proportion of the electrification will occur through off-grid energy access.

Understanding Off-Grid access:

So what does it mean to have “off-grid” access? Off-Grid refers to a range of energy options that are not a main or large grid connected electricity. The Multi-Tier Framework shows a range of different levels of access that can be considered as electricity access - from basic needs up to productive uses. These can be things that address basic needs, such as three lights in a home, or technologies targeting productive use, such as solar irrigation pumps or solar freezers. These can be micro-grids that service a few communities or it can be household units and decentralized systems.

A missing piece of the energy picture, however, is improved cooking facilities. We talk about electricity, but the reality is that electricity is very unlikely to address cooking needs in the medium term, if ever, and cooking takes up a large portion of a households energy needs. Reliance on open fires for cooking on a daily basis can lead to significant health effects and respiratory illness. Technologies like improved biomass cookstoves, or cooking with gas can reduce this burden, reducing smoke inhalation and reducing the time and effort required to collect firewood. (See our improved biomass cookstove here in our energy solutions page).

While we are not yet sure what exactly counts as electrification, what is known, is that we need to think about the people in question, and understand what their aspirations are. We need to target energy access to address the services that people want and need. Electricity is meaningless if people can’t afford it or if people have no appliances to use with it! We need to take a human centered approach to electrification to ensure sustainable development outcomes.

Our (Solar) Solution:

So what’s our Solution to the Off-Grid Electrification Challenge?

Well, we focus on long term partnerships with established NGOs that can enhance meaningful community engagement, support the reach of community aspirations and the sustainability of energy access… Read more about our approach here or Contact Us!

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