Energizing Vanuatu and the Pacific Background Vanuatu is an archipelago nation of 243,000 people (Vanuatu National Statistics Office, 2009) and 83 islands stretching out over the South Pacific Ocean in Melanesia. More than two-thirds of the population lives in rural areas where small-scale and subsistence agriculture predominates. With no electricity grid outside of urban and peri-urban areas, the domestic energy supply for the vast majority of rural households is limited to kerosene for lanterns, disposable dry-cell batteries for flashlights, and wood for cooking. Vanuatu Renewable Energy and Power Association (VANREPA) is an NGO based in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Its primary objectives are to promote and deliver renewable energy solutions to development needs. It was legally established in Vanuatu in 2003. Green Power is VANREPA‟s „trading arm.‟ It is a social entrepreneurship. It distributes renewable energy goods to the Vanuatu population. It registered as a business in Vanuatu in 2008. Green Power participated in the Global Social Benefits Incubator (GSBI) in 2008. While rural electrification has the potential to improve many, if not most, sectors of life, electrification is a very complex issue. It requires: - Difficult, often expensive, financial decisions. - Complex engineering solutions. - Many management/maintenance/ownership issues that must be dealt with. Electrifying Vanuatu may not be an attainable goal, at least in the near term. A Way Forward However, by segmenting the “improved energy services” market, we have been able to improve energy services while avoiding the problems mentioned above. Portable lighting and mobile phone charging is the segment that we are dealing with first, as it is the most universally needed. For lighting and phone charging, we have found that pico-solar (very small solar systems, < 5 watts) is a solution that outperforms all other options. The advantages of pico-solar are: - Affordable (minimal upfront costs) - No ongoing costs (except replacement batteries) - Simple installation that can be done by owner with no training - No user training is required - Close to zero maintenance required - Light-weight, can easily be sent for repairs - They are individually owned & cared for - No community organization needed to run it , collect fees or carry out maintenance Through supply chain innovations we have been able to distribute many pico- solar lighting and phone charging systems to many people very quickly. We have provided more than 9,000 pico-solar lighting and mobile phone charging systems since we began this initiative in mid-December, 2009. An Overview of the Market Vanuatu‟s rural population is estimated to be about 35,000 households. Almost all of them rely on kerosene for their lighting needs. Studies have shown that access to safe, clean lighting is the most urgent priority for households which do not have access to electricity. Households relying on kerosene lighting typically spend between $12 and $18 on kerosene monthly, and are therefore literally „burning their money‟. Also, they know that burning kerosene yields a very low quality light, burning kerosene has potential health risks (mostly regarding exposure to indoor air pollution), burning kerosene is a fire hazard, and burning kerosene gives off Green House Gas emissions. As a result, these people are highly motivated to change the way they spend their energy budget. Further, we have been raising awareness that: “Artificial lighting (electric lighting) is essential to move beyond subsistence.” Benefits of electric lighting include: ECONOMIC Extends the productive workday Conserves foreign exchange Reduces cost SOCIAL Improves/enables evening study Improves literacy Stems urban migration ENVIRONMENTAL Reduces greenhouse gas emissions through a reduction in fossil fuel use Reduces disposable battery waste. HEALTH Enables 24 hour health care Improves indoor air quality Reduces fire hazards In fact, lighting is a primary determinant of the quality of life. One More Thing… The economic argument alone is compelling. In Vanuatu there are about 35,000 rural households. Each household spends between USD 12 and USD 18 per month for kerosene. Plus, most pay a minimum of USD 1./week for mobile phone charging. On the average, that is more than USD 16/household/month. That is more than USD 6 million/year. If we can facilitate a transition to solar charged, LED lighting and solar powered phone charging in the rural areas and reduce energy expenditures to USD 5.00/week (mostly replacement battery costs, additional appliances, etc.) the money saved will be greater than 4 million dollars. That, of course, is equivalent to a greater than 4 million dollar injection in the rural economy. That is huge! Our Distribution Partners VANWODS is our primary distribution partner. VANWODS, an MFI, is able to offer end-user financing for this project. They also have a very strong word of mouth network. In the two months between mid-December and mid-February VANWODS moved more than 3,000 units through their network. Vanuatu is a Christian country. Most people are affiliated with a church and church activities are a regular part of many peoples‟ lives. As a result, the Presbyterian Church, which has a very strong presence in the Central Islands, has recently started distributing our products. This has proven to be very effective. Therefore, we will seek to establish similar relationships with other Churches, such as Anglican, Catholic, and Seventh Day Adventist, throughout the country. The Department of Provincial Affairs is eager to promote us and our products. They plan to do this through their support to the 78 Area Councils throughout Vanuatu. Peace Corps and other volunteers (such as AYAD, Australia and VSA, New Zealand) have proven to be highly effective at marketing our products. We also have an effective poster campaign. Our posters have reached most islands of Vanuatu. Largely, they have been distributed by Peace Corps and other volunteers, educators, the Department of Provincial Affairs, and VANWODS. We are continually working to expand and upgrade our distribution network. Scalability While there is still more work to do to fully “Light Vanuatu,” We hope to expand within the region in two ways: we plan to extend our reach; that is, work in other Pacific Island Countries such as Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Tonga, Kiribati, and Samoa. The need seems greatest in Melanesia (Papua New Guinea and The Solomon Islands) because many of the Polynesian countries have relatively high rates of electrification. That fact not withstanding, we are currently working with a group from Fiji and another from Samoa to introduce these products in those countries. We also plan to expand our scope; that is, work in other segments of the “improved energy services market” such as improved cooking stoves, fixed household lighting systems, street lighting/outdoor lighting/campus-courtyard lighting, refrigeration/freezing/ice making, and energy efficient IT and entertainment products. We will probably not dive (at least very deeply) into all of the segments listed here. Some other “segments” of the “improved energy services market” that we have started to look at. Cooking Energy One of the things that we are looking at is a Solar Steam Cooker. The only fuel this uses is sunshine and there are no emissions. The advantage of this type of solar cooking as compared to other methods of solar cooking is that with this method the cook does not need to be standing outside in the hot sun! We have also started testing some improved wood burning cook stoves designed by the Aprovecho Research Center and sold by StoveTec. We find that the StoveTec stoves are first rate! This is not that surprising as they are the result of many years of research by the Aprovecho Research Center. These stoves, and the organization that designed them and the company that produces them, won an Ashden Award in 2009, http://www.ashdenawards.org/winners/Aprovecho09. Small, fixed solar electric systems We are experimenting with a couple of small Solar Home Systems that utilize Lithium iron phosphate, LiFePO4 or LIP, batteries with very good results. This kind of battery seems to tolerate being completely discharged with minimal or no ill effects. The smaller system is able to run 2 x 1 watt LED lights and charge mobile phones. It uses a 6 watt solar panel and a 2.5 Amp-Hour battery. The larger system is able to run 3 x 1 watt LED lights, 1 x 3 watt LED light, charge mobile phones, and run a small TV/DVD player. Both are quite affordable and seem quite robust. These too, are being very well received. Street lighting/outdoor lighting/campus-courtyard lighting The U.S. Millennium Challenge Account is funding a paved road around the main island (Efate) of Vanuatu. These works will contribute to expand infrastructure and accelerate development on the island, helping facilitate connections between Port Vila, the capital, and villages around Efate. While mobility on this island will be improved, a rise in accidents is also to be expected, especially at night, due to the lack of illumination. This presents an opportunity to demonstrate Solar powered Street Lighting. This could prove to provide for safer nighttime driving conditions, reduced number of casualties due to traffic accidents, and an overall safer and more secure nighttime environment. And it can do all of this without access to mains power, which is absent nearly everywhere in Vanuatu. Even where mains power exists, Solar Street Lighting appears to be much more cost effective than utility connected street lighting. Solar Water Pumping While lighting and other electric appliances are convenient and can drastically improve the quality of life, access to drinking water is essential for life. There is probably a huge market for this technology in the region, once people are aware of it. Where to from here? We would like to: o Continue “Lighting Vanuatu.” o Expand our lighting initiative to the Solomon Islands. With the change of government in the Solomon Islands, it seems that the time is right to expand our Lighting initiative to the Solomon Islands. This is exciting to contemplate as the population of the Solomon Islands is more than twice that of Vanuatu! o Begin selling improved cook stoves in Vanuatu o Continue testing the small Solar Home Systems mentioned above.
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