Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a country of incredible natural beauty and cultural diversity. Its unique geography, composed of numerous island nations, presents both a challenge and an opportunity when it comes to energy. For the past 15 years, I've been involved in addressing the energy situation in the Pacific, particularly in PNG. This region, like many island nations, heavily relies on diesel-powered generators for electricity, resulting in high costs and unreliable power supply. The consequences of this energy dilemma are far-reaching, affecting healthcare, education, and the overall quality of life for its people.
My connection to PNG is personal - my parents met on one of the islands of this remarkable country. This link has driven me to work towards making a difference in PNG and the broader Pacific region. Over the years, I've had the privilege of collaborating with local communities through our One Sun initiative, which provides solar solutions to schools and organizations in developing nations. While we’ve been able to help in this way, it has become clear to me that a fundamental problem persists in the Pacific region, requiring a complete energy transformation.
A trip to Daru in 2018 brought the harsh reality of the situation into sharp focus. This small island, situated only 200 kilometres off the Australian coast, is plagued by intermittent power supply. Residents suffer due to the unreliable generators, often running out of fuel or breaking down. This dire situation affects essential services such as healthcare, education, and local businesses. The community relies on their own generators, contributing to environmental degradation and soaring costs.
It's incredibly frustrating when you know that there is a better way. A sustainable solution to supply clean and reliable energy is within our grasp, yet political roadblocks and outdated regulations have hindered progress.
The Proposed Solution
The solution I've been advocating for is simple but transformative. We aim to install solar power systems at no cost to commercial entities, the government, or the grid. This solar energy would be offered at a substantially lower cost, typically 30-50% cheaper than their current sources, with the added benefit of 24/7 reliability.
Collaborating with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) seemed promising, but their endless red tape was counterproductive. Instead, I realized that we could use Australia's expertise in commercial solar to implement this solution throughout the Pacific region without relying on external funding. This approach would empower national super funds to invest in their own sustainable progress and improve the lives of their citizens, instead of international entities profiting from their resources.
The ultimate goal in PNG is a transition to 100% renewable energy. This means generating energy through solar, hydro, and wind resources while reducing energy costs by 40%. This transition would result in full electrification, creating jobs, fostering innovation, and significantly improving the lives of the local population.
The Biggest Challenge
The most significant obstacle to this transformation is the monopoly held by PNG Power over energy generation and retailing, reinforced by legal concessions that prevent others from producing energy within a 10-kilometer radius of their assets. Breaking down these barriers is essential for progress.
Given the widespread acknowledgment of solar energy's effectiveness, PNG Power's resistance to change is perplexing. We've offered to pay them a royalty on our energy sales, ensuring they profit from our initiatives. Our goal is to make everyone a winner.
I've committed to helping the government navigate through these legal constraints and convincing PNG Power that change is not just beneficial but necessary for the people and the country. However, overcoming the inertia of the status quo and winning trust is a challenging endeavour. Our commitment to long-term operation and maintenance of the solar systems sets us apart from previous operators, but convincing others of our sincerity is an ongoing process.
Kick-Starting the PNG Energy Transformation
Powering progress in Papua New Guinea is a journey filled with challenges, but it is a journey worth embarking on. Clean and affordable energy is not just a dream but an achievable reality.
To succeed, we need a collective effort, from those with connections to PNG, policymakers, and advocates for a clean energy transformation. By rallying support and pushing for legislative changes, we can unlock the potential of this remarkable country and the entire Pacific region. It's time to make clean and affordable energy a reality, for the benefit of the people and the planet.
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