Lighting up Timor-Leste

In off-grid rural areas of Timor-Leste, solar energy is often the only electrical option to facilitate the provision of essential services. Electricity provides light to study for exams or to deliver a baby at night, power to recharge phones and operate computers and printers, and energy for record-keeping and printing educational materials.

For 16 years, Sanctuary‘s not-for-profit publisher Renew has worked with communities in Timor-Leste to provide clean, renewable lighting and electricity to people living in remote rural villages. We’ve helped install solar lighting and power to more than 2100 homes and over 100 community centres, orphanages, schools and hospitals. We have also helped train more than 180 village-based solar technicians who can then use their skills to provide value to their families and communities. All this work is powered by donations and grants.

A brief history of lighting up Timor-Leste

A group of passionate Renew members initiated the program in the early 2000s, soon after Timor-Leste’s independence, to offer what they could to help the country recover.  This team was very focused on building local skills through hands-on experience installing solar systems and by working with local training institutes to develop a solar PV training curriculum. In 2014, Renew’s work was given a boost with funding from the Google Impact Challenge which enabled us to improve the solar PV system for households, roll it out to over 600 homes in three districts and conduct further training of village-based technicians.

In 2017–2019 Renew and its local partners reached a further 265 rural homes and trained 15 new local solar technicians. A grant from the Andrew McNaughtan Foundation enabled us to work on improving community education by developing picture-based guides on solar energy.

To date, we estimate that our work installing household solar PV systems has provided modern energy services to over 10,700 people, enabled 550 people to undertake additional economic activity resulting in over $1.1 million of income, saved each household over $900 on kerosene expenditure, and displaced 4,250 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

Pay-Go: helping families own their solar systems

Last year, Renew began trialling a new model known as Pay-As-You-Go (or PayGo). Under this model, families can pay off their solar PV systems over time. It works much like topping up a pre-paid mobile phone: each month, a voucher is purchased for $5, providing one month of electricity. After 24 months, if families are up-to-date in their payments, the system is unlocked and families fully own their systems. Renew is working with a local social enterprise to implement this model and provide ongoing maintenance and support. The revenue generated by repayments is used by the enterprise to pay wages and to build a revolving fund to ‘light up’ further households.

Larger systems on Community Buildings

Renew continues to install, repair and maintain larger systems on community buildings. This year, we are working at 12 different sites on Atauro Island and in Baguia with funding from two private foundations. A key component of this work is improving the skills of locals to maintain and repair these more complex systems. Our Timorese training partner, the Centro Nacional de Emprego e Formacao Profissional (CNEFP-Tibar), is currently conducting a certificate course in photovoltaics with trainees from Atauro and Baucau.

Gift of Light

Over the years, Renew has been able to do much of this work thanks to our Gift of Light campaigns. These funds enable us to leverage additional support from foundations and businesses. Every year around the holidays, we ask for tax-deductible donations to our project that can be used as a gift for a friend or family member. These gifts go towards improving the quality of life for thousands of people living in Timor-Leste.

There is plenty of work still to be done. Last year, Renew audited all of the solar systems we’ve helped install since 2003. The audit identified 40 systems that would benefit from ongoing support; finding sponsors for this ongoing maintenance is one of our key goals for 2020. We are also looking to do more intensive training of technicians on larger systems, something that is integral to the long-term sustainability of our projects. Your contributions to the Gift of Light campaign and a new monthly donation program launching next year will help us achieve these goals.

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