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Local solutions to meet energy needs

Aug 11, 2009

ADB’s publication Powering the Poor collates grassroots stories on resourceful ways to give rural populations access to clean and renewable energy. The report highlights case studies from across Asia and the Pacific on how simple and community-managed innovations have helped enlighten lives in remote areas of the region.

Powering the Poor

Publisher: Asian Development Bank, June 2009

Almost a billion people in the Asia and the Pacific do not have electricity. Ingenious and environmentally friendly solutions are needed to bring access to energy to such communities beyond the reach of power grids.

Bhutan solar power

This publication charts the approaches and methodologies that can be scaled up, and the interventions of ADB that can be replicated in future projects. This document is a record of effective, well targeted projects which promoted access to energy, and improved the quality of life in these rural communities where they were implemented.

The stories—told through villagers and those helping them on the ground—look at different types of energy projects—solar, micro hydro and biogas—as well as innovative approaches in implementing and financing projects. In the forest or the mountains, an electric light offers protection against potential predators, human or animal. Among major health benefits, electricity enables mothers and midwives to deliver babies at home more easily. Cooking with cleaner fuel also reduces the risk of respiratory disease caused by the smoke of kerosene, wood, or straw. Health clinics operate more efficiently with electric light than with torches.

Overwhelmingly, villagers report significant savings in money and time when they no longer have to search for firewood or wood resin or travel to the nearest town to buy costlier kerosene. Significantly, too, power enables villagers to engage in income-earning activities to augment a subsistence living from the land.

In Bhutan, a project has trained village women as “barefoot engineers” who can assemble components as well as install and maintain solar panels. To instill ownership and ensure continuity, a system is in place for villagers to contribute to a fund for spare parts and to pay the homegrown engineers for repairs. So far, the project has benefited slightly more than 500 households.

In Vietnam, a biogas project sprang out of a need to meet growing environmental and health problems caused by the proliferation of untreated animal waste on small farms. By using household plants that convert pig manure into clean gas and slurry (organic fertilizer), tens of thousands of small-scale farmers have lower health risks, reduced energy bills, and higher crop yields.

With manpower and resources in short supply, the electricity authority in the state of Assam in India has found a novel way to improve customer services while increasing revenues and cutting power losses. It has outsourced the running of rural networks to business-oriented, community-based franchisees who take better care of grassroots consumers and improve billing and collection services.

A pilot microfinance scheme has enabled nearly 15,000 households in Sri Lanka to take out small loans to pay for these costs and make repayments in affordable installments.

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