Lighting up rural areas the ‘smart’ way
By Patricia Hului
HAVE YOU GONE OFF the grid before? Gone out of town where there is no electricity to charge your phone or even switch on the light?
Do you know five per cent of the East Malaysian population still has no access to electricity compared to 0.5 per cent in Peninsular Malaysia?
We are not alone. According to Sir Brian Heap, the senior advisor for Smart Villages initiative project, there are 1.2 billion people in the world who do not have access to electricity.
The Smart Villages initiative was brought about last year by the Cambridge Malaysian Education and Development Trust (CMEDT), Malaysian Commonwealth Studies Centre (MCSC), and the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC).
The initiative aims to look at technical, entrepreneurial and policy solutions to provide sustainable energy for development in off-grid rural communities.
This was created for rural communities to enable them to benefit from technological development.
Through this project, a series of workshop is being organised in six regions to gather input from stakeholders who are involved in rural electrification projects.
After the success of the workshop in Arusha, Tanzania, Smart Villages initiative now turned their focus to Southeast Asia.
The second in their series of workshops ‘Energy for Off-Grid Villages’ was organised by the Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) in collaboration with Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) from Jan 27 to 29.
“What we are trying to do is to raise awareness on this issue so that we can bring the attention of policy makers and decisions takers that they should be addressing people who live off-grid and do not have access many of us share,” said Heap during a press conference at Unimas on Jan 27.
Heap also stressed that the lack of electricity in off-grid area is not simply about a technological fix.
“Many people think this problem can be fixed by technology. The project is not just concern technology but also concerns how can we help people realise the potentials of introducing these technologies to society and how to make it more attractive to people,” Heap stated.
Among of the successful off-grid projects that were highlighted was Kampung Sri Stamang 2 in Sri Aman fueled by mini-hydroelectric system.
The village previously depended on a diesel generator set for electricity. In 2012, SIRIM Berhad initiated a RM1 million project financed by science, technology and innovation ministry to build a 18.3 kilowatt micro-hydro system.
Now, Kampung Sri Stamang 2 located about 260km from Kuching is enjoying 24-hour electricity from the micro-hydro system.
The system is also being maintained by local villagers who were trained by SIRIM Berhad.
Instead of paying for diesel fuel like they used to, now the villagers only pay RM15 per family for the maintenance of the micro-hydro.
‘e-Bario Innovation Village’ is also another example exhibited by Unimas during this workshop.
The project was a living laboratory to incubate innovative grassroots application of ICT and renewable sources of energy.
In this workshop which took place in Unimas, leading scientists, thinkers and doers from across from the region, providing new insights to policy makers and funding bodies at national, regional and global levels on rural energy access for development.
The next Smart Villages Workshops will be held in India and Bolivia in late 2015 followed by West Africa and Central America in 2016.
The final two workshops provisionally in Brussels for the European Union and Addis Ababa for the United Nation and other global institutions will draw together lessons learned from the project as a whole.