24 Jul 2013

Solomon Islands locals trained to deliver solar power to rural communities

5:03 pm on 24 July 2013

15 local technicians in Solomon Islands have been trained to install and maintain rural solar power systems, so they can pass on this knowledge to rural communities.

The training was hosted by the Solomon Islands National University, through the USAID funded Vocational Training and Education for Clean Energy Programme.

The co-ordinator for the solar training program, Gavin Perera, told Leilani Momoisea that many of the technicians trained come from the department of rural electrification.

He says the department is overseeing the installation of 2,000 solar systems across the Solomon Islands, and it's hoped the training will help improve the success of current and future solar programmes.

GAVIN PERERA: Well, the Solomon Islands has really low electrification rates. About 80% of the population in the Solomon Islands lacks access to electricity. Energy services are just so vital for development, so solar is the best option to provide energy services to so many of the people that don't have it, mainly because in the Solomon Islands there's nine different provinces and there's hundreds of different islands. For people that are really sparsely located it doesn't make sense to provide grid infrastructure to deliver energy services to these people. Discreet solar systems that you install on individual rooftops makes a lot more sense. However, there's not that much training or local expertise, you would say, at the village level, to help support these systems. And so the training helps to boost the skills of the technicians in the Solomon Islands to help improve the sustainability and the success of future and current solar programmes that will spread the solar systems and energy services to the 80% of people in the country that don't have access to energy.

LEILANI MOMOISEA: And I suppose more important than installing the systems would be learning how to maintain them.

GP: Yes. In the past, a big reason there's been lower success rates of aid projects not just from the main donors but from all donors pretty much over the last 15 years is that the projects had sort of been rolled out in a real top-down approach. So once they'd been installed there wasn't much engagement with users on how to maintain and use their systems. So common errors were causing mass failures of the system. Simple things like overloading batteries with too many appliances and things like that - just simple behaviours that could easily be avoided with just a little bit of user engagement. So a big part of our training is teaching the technicians about the human element behind the solar energy systems that are installed and getting them to pass on that knowledge to end users so that they can maintain and then correctly use their energy systems appropriately.