Spectacular growth in Papua New Guinea’s K600 million solar energy market


Sixty per cent of households in Papua New Guinea are now using solar energy, compared with just two per cent seven years ago, according to a recent International Finance Corporation report. What’s driving this extraordinary growth? asks Kevin McQuillan.

A woman reads the newspaper at night, something that wouldn’t have been possible before. Credit: IFC

Papua New Guinea’s solar market is already worth about A$259 million (K596 million) annually, according to the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and is expected to grow over the next five years.

‘Solar has now effectively replaced kerosene lamps in homes, which is good for people and the environment,’ the IFC’s Resident Representative in Papua New Guinea, John Vivian, noted in a recent statement.

According to the IFC report, Going the distance: Off-grid Lighting Market Dynamics in Papua New Guinea, the change can be attributed to a range of factors, including people having sufficient disposable income, a low-connectivity rate to grid electricity of 13 per cent, as well as new distribution networks and the IFC’s Lighting PNG program.

This program has helped 22 per cent of the population, or 1.8 million people, gain access to off-grid solar lighting and mobile phone charging for the first time in the country’s history.

Jon Pittar, Managing Director of Solar Solutions PNG Ltd, says solar has a fair penetration in most of PNG’s main centres and some outlying areas but is still not well distributed the more remote areas.

Women driving change

Papua New Guinean women are driving the take-up of off-grid solar lighting products, according to the CEO of Origin Energy PNG, Lesieli Moala Taviri. Origin is a Lighting PNG partner.

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‘Market-based approaches, led by the private sector, are likely to be the most efficient way of distributing solar to remote areas.’

‘It’s a move primarily driven by women’s desire to start up small businesses, be able to cook safely, and light up their homes so their children can study,’ she tells Business Advantage PNG.

‘It also means they can reduce the burden of going out to look for firewood.’

‘There’s a cost that comes with finding firewood, because a lot of the forests around the villages are depleted. They’ve got to go inland and that means hiring a vehicle or hiring extra help to carry firewood.’

Replacing kerosene lamps

Surgeons now can perform lifesaving surgeries in rural areas with equipment powered by solar energy.

Lighting PNG involved the IFC partnering with five global manufacturers and four local distributors to boost the off-grid solar market in PNG, particularly in rural areas. It involved market research advice, roadshows, and setting minimum quality standards for partners to join the program.

Jon Pittar believes market-based approaches, led by the private sector, are likely to be the most efficient way of distributing solar to remote areas.

‘Due to the remoteness and cultural diversity of the country, their efforts could be enhanced by local partnerships with non-government organisations, community service organisations and the local government, who bring deep contextual knowledge and connections to ensure distribution happens in a culturally appropriate manner.’

Through such partnerships, he says, solar technologies have reached the Kokoda Track, Sepik River, Telifomin, Buna and Gona.

He adds that, in addition to the market-based endeavours, donor aid and funding will be required to reach ‘the last mile’ in much of the country, and this should be through partial or indirect subsidies.

He warns that some cheap, poorer quality solar products from Asia are eroding trust in solar as a reliable form of energy.

Stand-alone solar units accessible from approved dealers such as Solar Solutions and Brian Bell stores are the answer to that, despite the higher price, he suggests.

‘They don’t have any need or requirement to power other 240-volt appliances, but do require lighting and communication, which can be affordably achieved with 12-volt home systems.’

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