The Alternative Technology Association (ATA) has completed a two-year project to install household solar-powered lighting systems in villages in East Timor. The project was undertaken with two local partners, CNFP and Natiles, and made possible thanks to funding from the Google Impact Challenge 2014, four East Timor Friendship Groups and generous public donations.
After running pilot programs in 2015, a total of 607 household solar systems were installed in 12 villages in the districts of Aileau, Viqueque and Baucau between November 2015 and October 2016, directly affecting more than 4000 people. In each village, Natiles liaised with the community, providing training to a management committee and helping it set up its own maintenance fund, while CNEFP trained 30 local technicians to install, maintain and repair the systems into the future.
The solar-powered lighting system was designed in-house using the Google funding to create a simple, tamper-proof, easy-to-fix system that’s suitable for conditions in East Timor. Participating villagers pay a US$10 installation fee, followed by a monthly subscription of US$2, to be held by the management committee to fund ongoing maintenance and repairs.
This monthly payment is less than the cost of candles and kerosene families previously used. The change to clean energy also improves health, particularly children at risk from respiratory illness. Lighting was installed inside and outside the front of each house, and each household also received a USB-rechargeable torch on a wristband.
Solar-powered lighting (‘Lampu Diak’ in Tetun or ‘good light’) gives villagers increased connectivity (as they can charge mobile phones via the USB port) and more productive time in the evenings to work or study. People feel protected from spirits which are about after nightfall, and particularly increases the safety of women.
Over the course of the project, the ATA has worked closely with the East Timor Government and with the United Nations Development Program on the future of the country’s renewable energy roll-out, to ensure better co-ordination, planning and shared learning in renewable energy projects. Thirty-five per cent of Timorese households still have no access to the power grid.
Kate Greenwood, the ATA’s international projects manager, said she was delighted that the complex project had been completed so successfully. While previous ATA projects had involved sending about 50 solar systems to East Timor, this one involved an enormous scale-up to hundreds of systems.
“You’re actually at the forefront of building the energy infrastructure of a country, which is quite daunting but also quite exciting,” Ms Greenwood said.
Future projects are currently being planned for East Timor.
A big thank you from the ATA to local partners CNEFP and Natiles for managing the project on the ground, and also ATA volunteers who helped: Michael O’Connell who delivered training and mentoring to CNEFP; Lisa Weber and Ben Purcell who went to Viqueque; and David Tolliday and Maja Gajic who went to Aileu. Lisa also developed the solar mapping database and Alan Hutchinson the VLS technology.
Watch a video of the solar-powered lighting installation in the village of Rileu in October, 2016.