Bringing solar energy to the PhilippinesPublished: Nov 1, 2021 Reading time: 3 minutes
Afternoons in the unelectrified community of Barangay Magsaysay, Northern Samar, are normally spent in silence. Most residents pass the time sleeping indoors to avoid getting burnt from the scorching sun. But on the day that People in Need (PIN) arrived to provide renewable energy systems, music filled the air. Instead of engaging in her usual idle routine, an elderly woman, Rosalina Pajanostan, waved her arms to the beat of old Waray folk songs on her new solar-powered radio. This is the change that renewable energy can bring.
In August, the Renewable Energy Access for off-grid Communities and Households (REACH) Project, led by PIN in the Philippines, installed the first batch of solar home systems in Barangay Magsaysay and Sitio Pangudtan of Mapanas, Northern Samar.
These systems were the first to be installed in partnership with the main electric cooperative in the area, Northern Samar Electric Cooperative Inc. (NORSAMELCO). The renewable energy technology supplier, POWER 4 ALL, assisted in the process and in training locally based technicians. By the end of the first two weeks, 86 households had fully functioning units to power their lights, flashlights, radios, and mobile phones.
Located almost a 2-hour walk from the main town, which itself is accessible only after a bumpy motorcycle ride due to underdeveloped roads, the journey to Barangay Magsaysay is arduous. Residents must traverse through rivers and forests to access necessities such as ice, meat, and other essentials. Many resort to farming to provide for their families. One enterprising resident even operates a delivery service, charging a small fee to transport essential goods from the village to the town.
Despite the inaccessibility of the area, the local elementary school remains closed due to government protocols against the spread of COVID-19. Therefore, children are forced to learn through take-home modules. This is difficult for parents who work outside the home and are only able to help with homework at night. Once the sun sets, it is too dark to see properly. Due to high fuel costs, some residents only use their gas lamps during dinner, while those who are lucky enough to have a generator (which is loud and polluting) spend a lot of money to keep it running.
Fortunately, things are changing. With the help of the newly installed solar home systems, residents no longer need to worry about the difficulties of working or studying at night. “In our barangay, we don’t have electricity [from the grid],” says Mila Rebato, a 37-year-old day-care worker. “I am grateful that through solar energy, we will finally have lights in our homes. It will help our children in their schooling to read their modules.”
The solar flashlights are also helping people with their chores and errands after dark, making it safer to walk the streets at night without fear of tripping or losing their way.
The Community Electricity-using Solar Power Association (CESPA), a NORSAMELCO-recognised organisation that manages and maintains the solar home systems, led orientations for residents. There are a total of six officers in charge of ensuring that every recipient abides by the rules and regulations of the programme. Rosita Bacolongan, the CESPA auditor, says: “I feel very grateful because I can talk to the members about what is happening with their money.” Like the other officers, her work ensures that the programme will remain sustainable even after the organisation has left the area.
Through the REACH Project, clean energy is being democratised as it arrives in some of the Philippines’ most remote regions. This helps ensure that everyone is given equal opportunity towards a brighter and more resilient future. PIN, in partnership with Entrepreneurs du Monde (EdM) and Malteser International (MI), and with the financial support from the European Union (EU) through the Access to Sustainable Energy Programme (ASEP), is humbled to serve a key role in the REACH Project.
Access to energy is a basic human right, and through this project, PIN is working to ensure this right is granted to every Filipino.