Alliance for Sustainable Partnerships and Initiatives in Renewable Energy (ASPIRE) organizes poor isolated communities to make electrification a reality. Together with TeaM Energy Foundation, it delivered solar power to 16 barangays in Polilio Island, installed 3,400 solar home system units, and formed Renewable Energy and Community Development Associations (RECDAs) among the island’s farming and fishing communities. RECDAs enabled residents to become project implementers and not simply RE products end-users. ASPIRE has also brought solar power to remote areas in Tawi-Tawi province and Quezon’s Alabat group of islands. With the implementation of the Renewable Energy Act and its array of incentives for developing and installing RE sources, solar power could soon thrive as the preferred energy source in the countryside.
“Sustainable energy has a strong link to poverty alleviation, better health, good education and overall quality of life. The poor are poor because they lack the access to reliable energy services.”
These words from Indian social entrepreneur and 2011 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Harish Hande ring true particularly for local communities that rely on expensive “dirty” fuels like kerosene. “As one goes deeper in the lower economic strata of society,” Hande adds, “the percentage of expenditure on energy increases. Ironically, it is the poor who spend more on energy and on ‘dirty’ ones yet.”
There is a common notion that renewable energy (RE) is expensive; consequently, providing the poor with immediate access to energy, diesel and coal are the quickest options. Yet in isolated Polilio Island, testimonial evidence affirms the life-changing impact of solar housing systems set up through ASPIRE and Team Energy Foundation.
Because solar products are imported into the country, additional costs for handling and transportation increase their prices. Even more critical to the market, however, is finding spare parts when units break down. The products are exposed to harsh weather conditions and seawater when used in fishing boats at night. Without accessible spare parts and service, the resulting product failures can bring communities to think that solar technology is ineffective. Setting up a one-stop retail and service outlet for multiple RE brands and product lines—from solar lanterns and batteries to fuel-efficient cook stoves—can therefore improve living conditions in energy-poor households.
PEF and ASPIRE are developing this SE business model designed to help areas without electricity. The PEF planning grant is for determining potential earnings over a three-year period from the social enterprise. It also covers site appraisal of new target communities and consultations to get residents involved in the project development process.