The Good Return Sustainable Energy Program in Timor-Leste has happened in leaps, bounds and landslides and has been both extremely challenging and a very enjoyable experience. It is now at the stage where it will begin to transition to Moris Rasik [Good Return's microfinance partner in East Timor] so they can continue to expand the program in 2012 and provide solar energy to even more households in Timor-Leste on a sustainable basis.
The Extended Good Return Team in Timor-Leste (L – R: Hamish, James, Guy, Damian, Paolo, Edy)
Identification and Selection of Districts
The first part of this programrequired us to identify which districts in Timor-Leste would be most appropriate for Moris Rasik (MR) to focus on in the early days before national expansion. We obtained MR senior management feedback on the factors to assess quickly and easily at the regional manger meeting. Leap. This then necessitated a lot of running around trying to find information to assess these factors. The information should have been easily available but wasn’t. Landslide. An example was the Timore Leste Rural Electrification Master Plan (REMP). The REMP is supposed to be the guiding plan for solar energy provision in Timor-Leste. In the end even the Director General of the Secretaria De Estado Da Politica Energetica (Secretariat of State for Energy Policy) was calling me to try to get a copy of this report! Combined eventually with sunlight data from NASA, electricity coverage courtesy of UNDP and client data from Moris Rasik, we nearly had all the information we needed and got busy selecting districts.
Electricity coverage in East Timor
Having identified the districts we thought would be good for business, we needed to determine if the people in the districts we had selected wanted the products and could afford them. It took 3 weeks to get approval and arrange the trip with numerous Timor style reschedules. Landslide. Then ensued a week-long motorbike journey into the districts of Ainaro and Manufahi, our top 2 rated districts. Bound. The trip revealed the reality – none of the 98 clients interviewed had access to grid electricity. Moris Rasik clients were spending on average $4 a week on candles and kerosene. The results of the energy needs assessment were overwhelming—clients wanted, needed and could afford the type of solar lighting products we wanted to give them.
With the field set, all that remained was to develop a loan product specifically for the purchase of solar products, a mechanism to ensure the clients would buy the solar product with the loan, create a distribution network and select some products, as per the business model below. Leap, bound, landslide, repeat.
Working with the Operations Manager at Moris Rasik we sketched out the details of the loan product and started it on the path to approval. Not so bad. Then came the voucher system – the first time it was far to complicated and we started again, and then revised it again and again with Mercy Corp input. It looks beautiful now. After a month of work these processes are sitting waiting for the right day to shine. They got their first glimpse of sunshine at the recently held Programma Ahi Baa Uma Information memo session in Maubesse.
The SRY101L, D-Light S250, Barefoot Firefly and Sundaya Ulitium
To get the ball rolling on the distribution network we met with a range of local businesses that focus on electronic products and carefully narrowed down the choice to 3. These 3 are our potential ‘Importadors’.
Product selection has proven a lot tougher. We collected a range of Solar products from our 3 importadors and from internationally recognised sources such as Barefoot, D-light and Sundaya and consulted with Origin Energy to determine the best way of assessing the product for our purpose. Our partner Mercy Corp also sent a number of products away to test in detail as well as conducting some field testing. We decided to take the products on a road-show to see what clients thought of them, which resulted in very productive feedback from potential clients.
The solar products charging
During this trip we also met with and interviewed clients and shop-keepers who showed an interest in becoming ‘District Distribuidors’. In late November we will be returning to identify the ‘Ajente Sucos’ or Sales Agents for the areas as well. In the New Year, Moris Rasik and Mercy Corp will be bringing them all together to discuss how they will work together to supply and service solar lights in the regional areas of Timor Leste.
Follow my blog to read more about the lessons learned from each phase of the program – coming soon!