|Solar Energy. Lessons from the Pacific Island Experience (World Bank, 1994)|
|2. Solar energy in the Pacific Islands|
The experience of Tuvalu in the development of solar PV power is instructive because it indicates that solar PV systems can be used effectively to tap the solar resource (see Annex I for a brief description of Tuvalu). In Tuvalu, the chief agency responsible for developing solar PV energy is TSECS, which was formed in 1984 by the Save the Children Foundation (USA) with seed money from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). TSECS is a commercial enterprise, registered under Tuvalu's Cooperative Society Act, with a charter to promote solar electricity for household lighting on the outer islands.
Initially, TSECS installed 170 single-panel 35 Wp PV systems intended to provide minimal household lighting. The systems were scaled based on estimates from user surveys, but actual use turned out to be higher than the estimates, so the systems were undersized in practice. In addition, they did not include charge/discharge controllers for the storage batteries (see Annex 2 for technical details on sizing a system, controllers, and batteries). This lack caused battery failures, often within six months of installation. In 1985, a European Community (EC) project provided an additional 150 units. Although these units had charge/discharge controllers, the poor design of the controllers caused problems. Moreover, even with the 42 Wp panel provided, the systems were still undersized. Finally, the battery chosen for the EC project proved unsatisfactory. The component problems and design flaws of these initial systems were overcome through a French government grant, which provided 200 replacement batteries and controllers, thereby making all the systems operational.
The other problematic aspect of the system was the customers' frequent complaints that the single-panel systems provided inadequate power. Independent studies by the Pacific Energy Development Programme (PEDP) and the Energy Studies Unit (ESU) of the University of the South Pacific confirmed this. Hence, on the recommendations of PEDP and ESU, the EC agreed to upgrade the initial 170 single-panel systems to two panels of 42 Wp each and to provide replacements for the poor-quality controllers, lights, and batteries received under the 1985 scheme. Now that the upgrade project is complete, nearly all the TSECS systems have two PV panels, a reliable 100 Ah battery, and a charge/discharge controller that has been well proven in thousands of Pacific island installations.
Thus, after several years of trial and error, TSECS is now able to provide reliable PV-based electricity for lighting needs on a fee-for-service basis to about 300 households on the outer islands. Solar lighting kits have also been installed on eight community meeting houses. At present, the membership in the cooperative is limited by the availability of new PV units and not by the number of households willing to join TSECS. Though technical problems have kept many systems from performing to the full expectations of the users, the high on-time fee collection rate and the waiting list for new installations indicate that customers generally are satisfied. At present, TSECS does not have the capital to provide new installations and must rely on donors. The EC will be providing an additional 175 systems in 1993-94, bringing the total TSECS customer base to nearly 500.
TSECS is governed by a Management Committee, which consists of eight members, one from each of Tuvalu's eight larger islands. The Management Committee is directly responsible to the Registrar of Cooperative Societies located in the Ministry of Finance, Commerce, and Public Finance. As a result, all project funds to TSECS are channeled through this ministry. In a few cases, this channeling appears to have introduced significant delays in the needed expenditure of TSECS funds for maintenance. Hence, some streamlining of the ministry's TSECS budget approval process may be needed.
The Management Committee sets the user fees for TSECS. Day-to-day operations and project implementation are the responsibility of a Management Team (located in Tuvalu's capital. Funafuti). The team consists of a manager appointed by the Management Committee and three technical/support staff appointed by the manager Each island has its own branch, and members of the Management Committee are elected annually to their posts by their respective branches. On each island, TSECS has a branch technical agent, who is responsible for the day-to-day maintenance and monthly fee collections. Each island also has a Branch Committee. which is composed of local cooperative members. The Branch Committees act as arbiters of local disputes and makers of policy for their specific island.
Maintenance and fee collections are performed monthly by a branch technical agent, who is a full-time TSECS employee. These technicians have received formal training. Further, senior technicians visit every site at least twice a year. Spare parts are stocked both at the main office and by the branch technicians; inventory control is managed by the main office.
By the end of 1993, it is expected that more than 500 households will have lighting kits installed. The market for rural households desiring and able to afford PV lighting is estimated at 600 to 700 of the approximately 1.000 households in the islands, and this market is expected to be reached before the year 2000. In view of the growing energy demand from the consumers, a trend toward more powerful PV systems, capable of operating VCRs and household refrigerators, is expected to begin after 1993 and to come close to its full potential by 2000. In 1993. for example, three-panel expanded lighting systems and eight-panel lighting/video/refrigeration systems are being introduced on a trial basis and are intended to be offered to members at a monthly fee level appropriate to the O&M cost of the larger systems
In 1992, the initial cost of membership in TSECS was A$50 (US$40), with a monthly fee of A$6.25 (US$5.00) for a single-panel system. and A$7.60 (US$6. 10) for a two-panel system. TSECS earned roughly A$1.00 per month (out of the single-panel A$6.25 charge), a level of tariffs adequate to meet O&M costs but insufficient to permit expansion or replacement of the solar panels at the end of their useful life. The fees are expected to remain fixed until the 1993/94 addition of three-panel lighting systems and eight-panel Lighting/Video/Refrigeration systems, when tees will be generally restructured.
Reasons for Success
The main ingredients of TSECS success appear to be (a) good maintenance, provided by local technicians and visiting senior technicians; (b) good rate of fee collection by an impartial organization based outside the community and use of the fees exclusively for the project; (c) local user committees, which can arbitrate disputes between users and technicians about fee collections, disconnections. and poorly functioning systems and keep the users informed about the functioning of the enterprise; (d) TSECS' exclusive focus on PV systems; (e) availability of systems of different sizes to meet the varying electrical needs and financial resources of the users; (f) continuing and competent internal and external training; and (g) readily available external technical support to assist with system design and training development.