Solar challenge in PNG

Photo: Astra Solar

Papua New Guinea Manufacturers Council chief executive officer Chey Scovell says PNG Power Limited (PPL) has admitted that there is no end in sight to electricity supply woes in the country.

And those in authority have not done anything to resolve the power outages for the past 40 years as industries struggle to survive and face closures due to the domestic and global economic upheavals.

However, one PNG homegrown company — Lae Biscuit Company (LBC) — has been pushed to the wall and is fighting back for survival.

It is challenging those in authority by resorting to the use of solar energy, deemed illegal by law since the 60s.

LBC chairman Ian Chow said: “We are taking on a solar project to reduce operational costs, despite existing laws deeming this illegal.

“We spend an average of K1.3 million (US$369,000) a month in diesel to keep manufacturing production going. We need power 90 per cent of the time but we have been dealing with power outages for the last 40 years that I have been running the business.

“Shutting down means losing millions per day.” (On March 8, LBC announced it was shutting down for two weeks because it was hit by soaring manufacturing costs and low sales because consumers or man on the street did not have money to spend.)

Chow said: “Power surges have cost LBC at least a million Kina in repairs a month. And we still have equipment not fixed yet after 12 months due to global supply chain issues.

“Erratic and unreliable power supply is the main hindrance to manufacturers like me.

“I have a solar project for LBC which I believe is illegal but I am determined to proceed with it.

“If PNG Power wants to take me to court, I will fight the court battle.

“I have also asked (International Trade and Investment) Minister Richard Maru to look into this because the law (since the 60s) prohibits factories and manufacturers from using solar power.

“It does not make sense because PPL does not get money from generator fuel, so even if I use solar, that would make no difference.

“The advantages for solar, however, are overwhelming because it would also mean my green energy credentials go up, making me as an eco-friendly manufacturer and exporter due to this green certification.

“Using solar will lower our monthly diesel bill considerably and significantly because it is costing us K1.3 million(US$369,000) per month. By reducing this operational cost, our product prices will also fall, thereby benefitting consumers or man on the street.”

Maru told The National in response: “I have asked the Lae Chamber to put the issues/complaints in writing and we can deal with it. So I have no (further) comment for now.”

Meanwhile, the lack of legislation to allow solar energy services in urban centres has denied the country the benefits of a profitable economic resource, says Brian Bell trade electrical branch manager Brett Cox.

Cox said solar energy was clean energy and had proven to be a game-changer especially in rural areas with no access to grid power supply.

He said it could benefit cities such as Port Moresby and Lae.

“We need to change the legislation,” he said.

“At the moment, it is very difficult to get solar energy into the mainstream areas of the country, which is really denying the country a very good resource.

“We have plenty of sunshine especially here in Port Moresby and Lae which can be really good for solar energy to be use for housing and industries in the towns and cities. But unfortunately we do not have the legislation to allow solar or alternative energy to come into that market space,” Cox said.

Solar Solution general manager Lazarus Keeni said 80 percent of the population living in rural areas were off grid and depended on solar energy for their daily activities.

As such there must be regulations to ensure that standard and quality products enter the markets.

“Consumer protection is good for business,” he said

“The only thing lacking is awareness as to why our consumer should purchase standard products which are approved by VeraSol.

“And to do that, it first starts with a ban on all fake brands in the country. “Solar energy is the way forward for our country, especially in the rural communities and villages,” he said.