Renewable Technologies Bring Power Through the World’s Poorest Villages |
Around 789 million people around the world still do not have access to electricity, which seriously hinders their development possibilities. But the installation, with the support of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), of so-called “swarm grids” in vulnerable communities, from Laos to Mozambique to Vanuatu, shows that the solutions of Low-cost renewable energy can be an efficient alternative to more expensive large-scale grid connections.
The first step towards a great future
“This is the first step towards a great future,” says Reuben Natamatewia, the supreme ruler of the island of Lelepa, which is part of the archipelago of 83 islands that make up the nation of Vanuatu, one of the world’s largest countries. poorest in the world.
Mr Natamatewia is excited about the potential of a swarm network that has been set up on the island, which, like the vast majority of the country’s islands, has never been connected to the national grid. Until now, the inhabitants of these islands have had to settle for polluting diesel generators or individual solar home systems, which have limited capacity, providing barely enough power to charge a cell phone. The installation promises to be a game-changer for Lelepa.
“Once our village is fully electrified, we will be able to refrigerate our daily fish catch. An electric water pump will provide drinking water to the villagers. At school, teachers and students will be able to use the copier and printer. Thanks to sewing machines, women producers will be able to increase their artisanal production. “
The pioneering swarm grid project, which is supported by UNDP with funding from Germany, consists of robust power cubes, which look like large car batteries, and are charged by a solar panel. The energy stored in the cubes is channeled to individual households, or community buildings such as health centers, via cables buried underground. Because the cubes are interconnected, power outages are much less likely: if one cube fails, power can be supplied by the other cubes. And, as the community’s energy needs increase, more cubes can be added.
Lelepa’s swarm grid is a pilot project, but the government of Vanuatu intends to expand it to many other off-grid islands in the country and switch to 100% renewable energy.
As UNDP technical adviser Alexandra Soezer explains, the swarm network is a much more cost-effective solution than the options previously available on the islands of Vanuatu. “On Malekula Island, UNDP has built a traditional minigrid, where each domestic connection costs around $ 6,000. On the other hand, the connection per household on the island of Lelepa amounts to approximately $ 1,200 ”.
Light is life
“Light is not just light. This is life, and a better life for us here, ”says Teung, the village chief of Thai Phai Bai who, with Ko Bong nearby, now benefits from clean energy supplied by a swarm network installed with the support from UNDP.
Ko Bong and Thai Phai Bai are too far apart to be part of the national grid and, like the people of Lelepa Island, predict that the arrival of cheap and reliable electricity will have a transformative effect on their lives, with benefits such as improved health care, education and business opportunities.
However, for UNDP-supported projects to be sustainable, it is essential that members of vulnerable and poor communities can afford to pay for the electricity produced. In Lelepa, where the priority is the electrification of buildings and community infrastructure, a pay-per-use model is being put in place for the connection of households, while in Ko Bong and Thai Phai Bai, a community group manages the swarm network. , and establishes electricity costs deemed reasonable for the villager
Bringing electricity to millions of people
The success of these projects highlights the huge difference that electricity makes to some of the world’s poorest people, and the relatively low level of investment needed to make it happen. The potential to provide electric power to millions more people is extremely high, says Soezer.
“According to 2018 figures, 789 million people still do not have access to electricity. By scaling up low-cost spin-off grids programs, we could bring electrification to about 80% of these people, at a cost of about $ 400 to $ 500 per connection. Each household could end up paying less than $ 2 per month ”.
To be able to scale up and achieve these results, governments, with the support of bodies such as the UN-backed Climate Investment Platform, will still need to secure the necessary loans and grants, but Swarm grids show that, given the will policy, the ultimate goal of universal access to clean, reliable and affordable energy is both technically feasible and realistic.