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Mobile phones have seen rapid rise in off-grid solar in PNG

LISA CORNISH | Devex | Extract

CANBERRA — The use of off-grid solar products has skyrocketed over the past five years in Papua New Guinea, with 60% of households now using solar lighting — up sharply from just 2% in 2012, according to a new report by the International Finance Corporation.

As a result, PNG now has one of the highest rates of use of off-grid solar lighting in the developing world, according to the report ‘Going the Distance: Off-Grid Lighting Market Dynamics in PNG’.

Part of this is due to the fact that 87% of the population — or 7.2 million people — are not connected to the electricity grid.

But the increased use of mobile technology has also played a major role. The report showed the transition happened at a time when mobile phone penetration was growing rapidly, but the means to charge phones was lagging.

Off-grid solar products on the PNG market now include generic battery powered torches and lanterns, as well as IFC quality-verified off-grid solar products — with many providing the ability to charge a phone.

 “In a number of countries with high mobile penetration and low energy access, solar solutions with mobile charging sees a major uptake,” Subrata Barman, the lead of IFC’s energy advisory program in the Pacific, told Devex.

“This is because people need the energy to charge their mobiles, and there is also an attempt by mobile companies to launch initiatives for mobile charging. It is important to remember that the revenues of mobile companies are directly related to handsets being charged.”

About 97% of quality-verified products sold between 2014 and 2017 were pico products — which are small solar powered system used for lighting that can also support charging small devices such as mobile phones — the report explained.

In PNG, 83% of these products include a mobile phone charger. The report said that surveys showed the most valuable feature of these devices was the ability to charge phones.

This demand for products supporting mobile charging has resulted in a market gap for products powering larger appliances, including fans and refrigerators. But the report explained suppliers are currently exploring opportunities.

Data on household spending shows that off-grid households spend around K535 kina a fortnight on a range of typical purchases, with less than 5% spent on lighting products. According to the report, this makes lighting one of the larger expenditure items, ahead of health or mobile phone services.

But the report found in PNG, household income does not seem to be a barrier to purchasing lighting products and is not a determining factor in deciding the type of lighting products they will use.

Comments

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Robert Wilson

Whilst on the subject of mobile phones in PNG.

Why is it that anywhere else, mobile phone carriers provide cheap data/voice packages so people can afford to keep in regular communication. Not so in poor old PNG, one of the most expensive mobile services in the world,

large carriers such as Optus, Vodaphone, Telstra etc wont sign up to provide PNG cheap rates which means that people like me with direct family connections cannot afford cheap and regular contact (both ways) because of the excessive cost.

Yet again the people of PNG are ripped off.

Perhaps the government should be looking into why this is the case and work to find some relief for those not so well off as others with good incomes.

Daniel Doyle

I remember reading a few years ago a commentary on the rapid take-up of mobile phones in developing countries. The author assigned this to what he described as the people seeing a mobile phone as 'the gateway to modernity'. The article above would seem to prove him right.

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