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ASEAN energy community turns to Sunlabob for rural solar PV insight


Sunlabob this week contributed to the ASEAN Renewable Energy Week event held in Kuala Lumpur to offer practical lessons and perspectives regarding the development of solar energy-based mini-grids used for rural electrification.

Represented by Evan Scandling, the company’s head of communications, Sunlabob’s presentation focused on the unique insights it has gained through its more than decade of experience developing mini-grids and other solar-based electrification solutions throughout the ASEAN region, as well Africa and the Pacific islands.

“The key message is that rural electrification – particularly robust energy supply systems like mini-grids – is a complex and contextual endeavor,” said Scandling, who spoke to an international audience that included private sector, government and research representatives from the ASEAN region and North America.

Recognizing that more than 120 million people in the ASEAN region still do not have access to grid-connected electricity, the United States Department of Energy and the ASEAN Center for Energy co-hosted the “Rural Electrification with Distributed Renewable Energy” workshop to convene energy practitioners, finance experts, non-profit developers and research entities. Discussions focused on how to most effectively develop and manage rural renewable energy projects, varying from small hydropower in the Sabah state of Malaysia to off-grid wind power established in Indonesia.

Scandling particularly focused on Sunlabob’s technical, financial, operational and social learnings from its experiences developing rural mini-grids in challenging environments in countries like Laos, Sierra Leone and the Kiribati islands. Key recommendations included:

  • Undertaking comprehensive planning and feasibility studies to accurately understand and forecast community energy use and demands;
  • Integrating community-based training, capacity-building and employment to promote sustainable operational models; and
  • Utilizing a holistic approach by linking energy services to broader rural development initiatives such as agriculture, education, sanitation or healthcare.

Sunlabob’s presentation also highlighted the opportunity for selling energy services to “anchor clients”, such as partnering with the telecommunications industry in rapidly growing countries like Myanmar by providing reliable, affordable power to off-grid telecom towers and nearby rural communities.

“No two projects, no two off-grid communities are the same, and therefore, customized and flexible energy solutions that gain strong community buy-in need to be offered. A ‘solution-in-a-box’ approach simply isn’t an option with rural electrification,” added Scandling.