Sunlabob Rural Energy Ltd., set up in 2001, is bringing energy to remote rural communities in Lao PDR, a country where just 48 per cent of the population has access to grid electricity, mostly in cities and town. Through Sunlabob, over 1,800 solar-home-systems (SHS) and 500 solar lanterns are being rented to families in 73 different villages across Lao PDR.
In an area where most people rely on highly polluting kerosene lamps, the initiative rents out solar lighting at a lower price than kerosene, providing families with a real incentive to switch to the cleaner energy. The cheapest solar systems costs 35,000 kip per month (3.80$) to rent, while households typically spend 36,000 to 60,000 kip per month (4 to 6.60$) on kerosene for lighting. As well as being far less sustainable than solar energy, kerosene lamps can be dangerous, causing burns, starting fires and polluting the air indoors.
The equipment is rented through Village Energy Committees (VEC) selected by the whole community: this puts the community in control of setting prices, collecting rents and performing basic maintenance.
The potential for growth in the use of solar PV in Lao PDR is huge: Sunlabob is installing systems at a rate of 500 per year, and a new investment in 2008 will allow it to scale up to 2,500 systems per year, and 5,000 per year after that. The project is also highly replicable: Sunlabob is already starting work in Cambodia and Indonesia, and is exploring possibilities with interested potential partners in Bhutan, East Timor, Eastern Africa and Latin America.