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Learn more about our work in Timor-Leste

About Renew’s Solar for Timor Programme

About Renew’s Solar for Timor Programme

Renew’s Solar for Timor team is comprised of the Community Projects Manager and a small team of in-house professional volunteers, contractors, engineers and trainers who have worked on solar projects in Timor-Leste for many years.

We have a strong focus on training Timorese people to install and manage their own solar power and lighting. We do this by working in partnership with organisations in Timor-Leste and Australia.

Our aim is to develop a model that can be scaled-up and replicated throughout other rural areas of the country, and in other developing countries.

Context

Timor-Leste is recognised by the UN as being among the world’s Least Developed Countries. Many rural communities live in remote and inaccessible areas, often with poor access to essential services.

Thirty percent of houses in Timor-Leste do not have access to the centralised electricity grid. About half of those use solar panels for their lighting needs. The other half (about 30,000 homes) have to rely on kerosene and candles for lighting, the price of which is a burden on families’ limited income, meaning many have no light source after dark.

Energy poverty generates poor health and environmental degradation, limits economic growth and contributes to poor education and gender inequities.

Renew aims to light up off-grid homes in remote areas and accelerate both the availability and sector capacity of solar lighting.

Approach

Renew does not have a physical presence in Timor-Leste, and it is our aim to empower local organisations and people to manage their systems into the future without us.  Through investing in skills development and local partnerships, we are transferring knowledge and power to Timorese people.

Renew has several components to its Solar for Timor Programme. These are outlined below:

The Village Lighting Scheme (VLS) is a household solar lighting model that has been specifically designed for Timorese households, taking into consideration both environmental and community strengths.  Renew has provided solar home lighting to over 2100 households via this model.

The project is based on a community ownership and management model, and delivered through a user-pays-in system.  This ensures that the community is committed to the long-term sustainability of the project.

We engage with and mobilise the community to establish a VLS management committee. Households pay the management committee a small installation fee and then a regular monthly fee to cover the cost of maintenance, repairs, and spare parts (this fee is less than the average monthly expenditure on kerosene prior to installation).

We are also supporting a local social enterprise to expand into Pay-As-You-Go (PayGo) Solar

Under this PayGo model, families can pay off their solar systems over time.  This is similar to topping up a pre-paid mobile phone: a voucher is purchased for $5 by a family, the code is entered into the solar system which provides one month of electricity, then at the end of the month a further voucher is entered to keep the system operating.  After 24 months, the system is unlocked, if families are up to date in their payments, and no more codes are required to be entered. (An article on the PayGo system was featured in Issue 47 of Renew magazine.)

The key advantage of the PayGo model is that it recycles capital into lighting up further homes.  Further, it provides a consistent revenue stream to a local enterprise so they can hire staff and cover operational expenses.  The importance of a local enterprise cannot be overstated. It becomes the local service point for families who have opted into to the initiative.

Since 2003, Renew has installed solar systems on over 100 Community Buildings in Timor-Leste.  These buildings include health clinics, schools, training centres, police posts, radio stations, and social enterprises.

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 deliver a baby at night, recharge phones and operate computers and printers access, record keeping and print educational materials.

In 2019, in collaboration with our technical partner the Centro Nacional de Emprego e Formacao Profissional (CNEFP), Renew conducted an audit of all the systems we have installed.  The results were mixed.  Unsurprisingly, after 15 years since the first systems were installed, many of the systems were no longer working or had disappeared.  Since 2003, the electricity grid in Timor-Leste has expanded significantly.  Once the grid reached many of our off-grid installations, we assume the system components were re-purposed by locals.  The audit, however, identified over 40 of these systems, at off-grid or end-of-grid locations, that would benefit from ongoing support from Renew.

Finally, Renew continues its Solar Training Programme to ensure there are local Timorese able install, troubleshoot, repair and conduct maintenance on both our smaller household systems and our larger systems on community buildings.

Partnerships

Renew has partnered closely with a Timor-Leste training institution, Centro Nacional de Emprego e Formação Profissional (CNEFP), to ensure that the assembly, installation and maintenance of the Village Lighting Scheme (VLS) systems will form the basis of a sustainable industry in the community. Renew provides refresher training and mentoring to CNEFP to deliver the local technician training, oversee installations and conduct audits.

Back in 2010, thanks to AusAID funding, Renew developed Timor-Leste’s first Solar Photovoltaic national curriculum. CNEFP has since taught the curriculum and train-the-trainer program to over 230 solar technicians (including 42 women), helping to create jobs and local industry.

Renew has formed a partnership with a local NGO called Natiles, to manage community engagement and social monitoring. This is crucial to strengthening the community ownership and management model, and overseeing the village committees.

Renew partnered with another Timorese organisation – Roman Luan – on Atauro island. Roman Luan conducted a feasibility study to look at a future community managed maintenance scheme on Atauro island.

The Government of Timor-Leste, in conjunction with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is writing a National Renewable Energy Law. This is bringing together existing projects and providing the means to develop new projects. Renew is taking part in this process as we are committed to ensuring that the ambitious target of 100% rural electrification with renewable energy is met. Going forward, Renew will have a much stronger partnership and collaboration with the Government of Timor-Leste, and specifically with the new National Renewable Energy Authority, the peak government body regulating and coordinating renewable energy projects.

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Awards

Renew won the United Nations Association of Australia’s World Environment Day Clean Energy Award in June 2016 in recognition of its work bringing solar-powered lighting to remote villages in Timor-Leste.

Renew’s Community Projects Manager paid tribute to the volunteers who have been a crucial part of the Village Lighting Scheme:
“The International Projects Group started with a handful of people in Melbourne who saw a need. It has blossomed into a wonderful network of individuals who have made trips to East Timor, installed solar, trained people, developed specific solar units, and just generally donated an enormous amount of their time and energy.”

One-off donation for Timor-Leste

A one-off tax deductible donation will help us to install and maintain solar lighting systems in rural Timor-Leste.

Regular donations for Timor-Leste

Regular giving helps us to plan and create impact on the ground with improved monitoring, reporting and training.