Solomon Islands Solar Power Project

For rural Solomon Island villages reliant on kerosene lamps, a solar power project was just the thing to light their way.


| August/September 1998



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Small PV arrays were enough to start the first Solomon Islands solar power project.


PHOTO: ROBERT FRELING/S.E.L.F.

I visited the Solomon Islands for the first time in December, 1994. It was at the initiative of Dr. Hermann Oberli, an orthopedic surgeon from Switzerland who, together with his wife Elisabeth, had traveled to the Solomon Islands to head up the orthopedic section of the central hospital in the capital city of Honiara. As director of the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization that promotes photovoltaic rural electrification in the developing world, I was thrilled to initiate a solar power project in the south seas and had my bags packed in about ten minutes.

Aside from the citizens of Honiara on Guadalcanal, where electricity is supplied by a diesel-powered grid, 90% of the country's population lives in small, isolated villages in which the only source of lighting is that produced by a smoky kerosene lamp.

Dr. Oberli discussed the idea of doing a solar project with one of his younger colleagues, Dr. Silent Tovosia, a native of the Solomon Islands who had received medical training in New Zealand and who was being groomed to eventually head up the orthopedic section of the central hospital. Silent suggested that his childhood village of Sukiki, on the southeast coast of Guadalcanal, would be a good place in which to implement a pilot project.

As a next step, Drs. Oberli and Tovosia then proceeded to register a local NGO, the Guadalcanal Rural Electrification Agency (GREA), to serve as an in-country partner to SELF. In addition, they arranged for the Premier of Guadalcanal Province to send a formal letter to SELF requesting its support for a pilot solar rural electrification project.

So, with an invitation in hand, I journeyed to the Solomon Islands shortly before Christmas in 1994. Dr. Tovosia accompanied me to Sukiki, accessible only by a two-hour outboard canoe ride from the nearest landing strip. I spoke with most of the 50 families who comprise the village and gathered information regarding their average monthly expenditures on kerosene and dry cell batteries. The principle of solar electricity was demonstrated using a PV lantern which I had brought with me. By the time I left Sukiki, there was a consensus among the villagers that they could afford to purchase solar home systems if three-to-four-year financing were made available. Indeed, from that point onwards, the people of Sukiki were anxiously awaiting the day when their homes would be illuminated with solar lighting.

Now came the hard part: raising funds for the project. As a non-profit organization, SELF has relied principally upon grants from private foundations to support its activities in the developing world. Funding has also been provided by the U.S. Department of Energy for several projects. After a prolonged search, support for the project was finally obtained from the Council of State Governments and U.S. Asia Environmental Partnership, whose State Environmental Initiative grant program was designed to facilitate the export of U.S. environmental goods and services to countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Additional support for the project was provided by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development and the Maryland Energy Administration.





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