Before 2006, Roberto Ossandón, a farmer who lives in Chacay Alto in the rural mountains of northern Chile, depended on candles for lighting and caught up on news during rare trips to the nearest town. Thanks to an off-grid solar PV project financed by the IDB and other organizations, that year 3,100 rural houses and schools in the region, including Ossandón’s, received panels.
When I visited Ossandón in October 2014, he was working in his garden, and only bare red mountains were visible in all directions for as far as the eye could see. I wanted to know how the panel had impacted his life, and he replied, “I use it for lights and for the radio. It has functioned well for eight years.” CONAFE, a local energy company regularly maintains the panels, and this has allowed them to provide uninterrupted service 24 hours a day 365 days a year to rural populations. Ossandón is just one of many whose quality of life has been improved by the goal to reach universal access.
Providing 100% energy access is a goal that countries must put in human terms in order to think about how providing basic energy services can improve lives.
- To provide universal access planning for the region, so countries will have detailed National Plans for Universal Access to Modern Energy by 2019.
- To map global, regional, and local institutions working in sustainable energy. In order to organize efforts, build off each other’s strengths, and avoid duplication of work, players in the region want an online database that maps the major players and initiatives in the region.
- To improve energy information by providing access to reliable energy data and reports for the region. The goal is to provide an online platform that coordinates all the relevant publications and tools related to sustainable energy projects in the region.
The first step is to reach isolated populations via off-grid systems, which provides them with energy for basic daily needs (lights, radio). Eventually consumers want to be connected to the electricity grid in order to have enough energy to use appliances, so off-grid systems usually represent the first step in the process of providing citizens with access to modern energy.
As the project in northern Chile has shown, an important part of the equation to providing long-term sustainable energy access includes planning and maintenance. IDB rural electrification and renewables expert Javier Castillo Antezana, developed a sustainable access indicator calculator to help establish criteria to define what “sustainability” means, because simply providing energy access does not ensure that populations will have regular, uninterrupted service over a number of years. To be sustainable, Castillo Antezana argues that projects must incorporate issues like maintenance, yearly service hours, and power available into the access calculation.
Providing reliable access is important in gaining the trust and support of citizens. For example, at a tiny school house near Ossandón’s house, students spoke excitedly about the solar panels behind their school as they listened to the pop sensation Adele on the radio. “We use the solar energy to listen to the radio, to work on the computer, and for our projector,” they told me. Their teacher, Hugette Abbat Curé, said, “Thank God, I’ve never had any problems with the panels.” Although such rural schools have few students, the individual impact of providing basic energy services means connecting students to a world of information.
SE4ALL Americas is about the practical and the personal, about providing the tools to reach the objectives by 2030, and about recognizing the importance of individual stories, because sustainable energy impacts lives in ways that alleviate poverty and promote education and equality.
* Alice Driver is in charge of communications for Sustainable Energy for All Americas in the Energy Division at the IDB. In October 2014, she traveled to Chile to photograph IDB off-grid PV projects and to attend the launch of the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All Americas in Santiago.
Follow us on Twitter: @BIDcambioclima