The Wintua-Lorlow micro-grid. A micro-grid is an independent energy system that operate outside of the national grid. (Photo: Ian Iercet)

On the remote island of Malekula, the second-largest island in Vanuatu, a new solar micro-grid is changing the lives of over 2,800 people - boosting local development while contributing to Vanuatu’s sector specific target of transitioning to close to 100 percent renewable energy for electricity by 2030.

The Wintua-Lorlow micro-grid launch event on 22 September 2020. (Photo: Ian Iercet)
Photo: Ian Iercet
Photo: Ian Iercet

Launched in September in the communities of Wintua and Lorlow, the micro-grid is Vanuatu’s first-ever community-run power system: members of the communities own and manage it. This keeps electricity costs low as there are no external operation costs or profit margin are usually incorporated into an electricity fee and passed onto consumers.

To ensure the micro-grid is well-maintained, the two communities have set up an energy cooperative in partnership with the Department of Cooperatives, which will be in charge of collecting the electricity fee. Throughout the first year of operation, the local energy service company will provide free maintenance and train members of the local communities to operate and maintain the power station.

“This is the first-ever power cooperative for Vanuatu’s last mile communities. This is a fascinating electrification idea that was made possible by our partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Government of Austria, which funded the project”, said Mr. Antony Garae, Director of Energy at the Ministry for Climate Change.

Engineers from the local partner energy company set up the micro-grid system. (Photo: Ian Iercet)
Photo: Ian Iercet

Access to electricity has already improved life at home for Wintua and Lorlow’s families.

“As a mother, having electricity 24 hours a day makes our lives easier – for instance, we don’t have to spend time collecting firewood to cook meals anymore. We just use small electrical cookers” said Mary Keneth Johnwel, who lives in Wintua.

Electricity will improve the lives of the 2,814 people living in the two communities. (Photo: Ian Iercet)
Photo: Ian Iercet
Photo: Ian Iercet

But the change it brings goes beyond having electricity at home. It is a catalyst for local development that improves the lives of communities as a whole. The solar micro-grid will provide electricity to the communities’ schools, health centre, police station, the community hall, the market area and the airport; enabling better education and health outcomes and supporting livelihoods.

John Sawyer, the principal of Wintua’s Secondary School. (Photo: Ian Iercet)
The Wintua Secondary School canteen, where the 121 students have their meals. (Photo: Ian Iercet)

For John Sawyer, the principal of Wintua’s Secondary School, which is home to 121 students, one of the main benefits will be that the school will be able to drastically reduce its electricity costs.

“We used to have to spend around US$10,000 per year on fuel for the school,” he said. “We need electricity for students to be able to study and teachers to prepare their classes in the evenings, and also for administrative work to run the school”.

Kevin Petrini, Deputy Resident Representative a.i. for the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji said, “This project not only contributes to global greenhouse gas emission reductions, but also showcases the strength of the partnerships made between Government agencies and communities, and empowers all the different groups in the communities; men, women, youth, children and vulnerable people have all benefitted from it.”

Access to reliable and sustainable electricity supply is a game-changer for remote communities, and the Government of Vanuatu is planning to embark on a comprehensive programme which will electrify most inhabited islands in Vanuatu through renewable energy. Click here for more information on our work in Vanuatu.

Key points of the project:

  • This solar Photo Voltaic (PV) micro-grid was launched on 22 September 2020 and has been operational since then. This project has been implemented by the Ministry of Climate Change, with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and funding from the Government of Austria.
  • The installed solar PV system is a stand-alone 230/400 VAC 50Hz solar micro-grid combined with 48V batteries operating 24 hours and 7 days a week.
  • The solar PV micro-grid system provides clean, affordable and reliable electricity to 2,814 people and seven institution: Wintua Primary School, Wintua Secondary School, the health centre, the police station, the community hall, the market area, and the airport.
  • UNDP through its NDC Support Programme provided technical assistance for the development of the Malekula feasibility study.
  • A well-structured maintenance plan, based on community capacity building by the local energy service company, will ensure the sustainability of the micro-grid power station.
  • This project is aligned to the Government of Vanuatu’s National Energy Road Map for increasing the energy access for rural communities in Vanuatu.
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