By Ross Verne

DEVELOPING solar power in Papua New Guinea is as much about renewing communities as it is providing renewable energy, according to renewable power supply company Juwi business development manager Peter Drager.

Mr Drager has just returned from a two-week trip to PNG with Australian charity the Gateway Children’s Fund, where he had the opportunity to demonstrate on a small scale the kind of technology the renewable energy giant is looking to bring to the country.

Mr Drager installed solar lighting and electrical device chargers at schools, offices and homes around Port Moresby in November and recently spoke to PNG Resources about the benefits the work had brought to local communities.

“People who have never had light in their house before or who have never had access to radios or TV before all of a sudden have access to that at a price that is worthwhile,” Mr Drager said.

“In one of the houses I put in just a small solar light setup – with 50-watt solar panels with several lights and a charging kit – and that completely changed the lifestyle of this one family.

“Now they can read after dark and do things at night they haven’t done before to improve their education and access to communications.”

Mr Drager described access to communications as a “foundation requirement” in developing a country and said it felt good to provide it on a community level.

“It can really change a family, but also a culture and a country,” he said.

Mr Drager said while the company has had some work on remote mines in PNG, there were many more opportunities on which they would like to capitalise.

“A lot of the sites are relying upon diesel [generation] so there is a good opportunity for renewable energy to be integrated there to improve the site’s energy security,” he said.

“Remote sites rely on diesel generation and I think in the last five years some very good technical solutions have become available and Juwi are leveraging off those.

“As component costs come down and local construction experience improves, the financial return you can see from implementing solar PV and battery storage and some control technologies on remote or diesel mine sites, you can see some real financial and environmental advantages.”

Mr Drager said there were gains to be made in limiting noise pollution and cutting carbon emissions by offsetting diesel consumption.

“Improving the local economy through developing manufacturing, upskilling workers and providing ongoing maintenance work is important too,” he said.

Mr Drager said the company was mainly looking to service large-scale mining projects in the megawatt scale.

“We are looking at mine sites and maybe some large communities that have a quite high load,” he said.

“Any projects in the megawatt scale but also less than that – like hundreds of kilowatts projects with some battery storage and control technologies that are financially worthwhile.”

“There are opportunities for smaller projects which would be quite advantageous to the locals, improving their quality of life by providing light and charging for devices.

“The focus is on larger scale but we are looking to assist the country in other ways.”

Mr Drager described the benefits of implementing solar as a “no brainer”.

“There is definitely merit in looking at renewable energy because the cost of electricity is quite high – with solar instead of diesel generation, that’s a no-brainer really,” he said.

“It is more than just coming in and putting in a system and leaving – you can change communities because there is a lot of involvement and ongoing work.”

“There are opportunities to bring communities up out of where they are at the moment and be at the forefront of business and communications.”