To develop a community-based pico-hydro power system as an alternative source of energy
Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc. (AIDFI)
In the remote areas of the Philippines most people have no access to an affordable and clean energy source for lighting or other electrical applications. To improve this situation and to promote sustainable livelihood activities in the region, the available upland water energy resources were used to power small hydro power systems to generate electricity.
The project was implemented by the Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc. (AIDFI) in four rural villages in the watershed areas of the La Castellana and Himamaylan region. In three villages pico-hydro electricity systems, known as firefly systems, were installed. The firefly technology is particularly suitable for lighting purposes in isolated villages that are not connected to the grid. In one village the energy-generating potential from hydro was significantly higher than the capacity of the firefly system. Because of this, the AIDFI decided to put in place a more powerful Pelton system instead. The electricity generated from both types of hydro systems is used to power one-battery charging stations in each village. In addition, protection and conservation activities were integrated to protect the water sources, stabilise the water supply and assure the long-term sustainability of the project.
The beneficiary families in the four communities were equipped with a home lighting set and a car battery to power the set. For a small fee these car batteries could be recharged at the established charging stations, meaning that the cost to the user is directly related to their electricity consumption. The batteries are mainly used to power lights and other small electrical appliances such as radios or mobile phone chargers. Some families in the four villages had already owned batteries before the project was set up, but they had to travel for at least one hour to recharge these batteries. Now they save time and money by using the locally available recharging option.
To manage and maintain the hydro systems and the battery charging stations electricity power associations“ were formed and local operators were trained in each village. The operators are also in charge of collecting the fees. The fees collected remain in the communities and create income for the operators.
The main technology introduced was the low cost firefly technology, which is a pico-hydro system. The installed firefly systems generate about 371-518W, which is enough to power the battery charging station. 12 volt car batteries are used to store the electricity. The batteries allow the electricity to be transported from the charger to the individual households. The charged batteries can be used to power 12V lamps and other 12V applications. Other appliances that work on 3, 4.5, 6 or 9 V can also be connected to the batteries with an additional adapter. By using an inverter, ordinary 220V appliances can also be powered as long as their electricity demand is not too high. Establishing a mini-grid was not an option in this case because the users' houses are spread over a wide area and the cables for 12V supply were too expensive. To operate, maintain and repair the systems local technicians were trained by AIDFI. Materials for the repair and maintenance of the system are locally available in the hardware and repair shops.
The established village "electricity power associations“, together with the AIDFI project team, were in charge of managing the overall implementation; day to day operating of the system is handled by the trained local technicians. The users pay between €0.50 and €0.90 every time they recharge their battery. Prior to the project, the cost of recharging batteries in distant locations was as high as €1.80 to €3.50 per month. The repair and maintenance costs for the firefly system are calculated to be as low as €0.80 per year.
To ensure the security of the revenue generated from the battery recharging fees, each village association appointed a treasurer. The treasurer has to prepare monthly financial statements that are presented to the members during the monthly ownership or officers meeting. An auditor, who conducts regular audits on the financial performance, was also appointed in each association.
From the outset, environmental sustainability was integrated into the project design and to date no negative ecological side effects have been identified as occurring during or after the implementation. The actions taken to ensure a steady supply of water for the sustainable use of the firefly included the planting of 1500 saplings within the areas surrounding the water sources. The original plan was to plant 8000 saplings, but this proved to be unrealistic.
In addition to the watershed conservation efforts the project has also contributed to the reduction of primary fossil energy use within the four communities. It is expected that the consumption of fossil fuels will be reduced by at least 3,432 litres per year. This contributes to the reduction of harmful greenhouse gases that would otherwise have been emitted.
Before the project was implemented, social awareness-raising, information and training activities were carried out within the four communities. These included the formation of village associations; formulation of policies and guidelines; orientation on watershed protection and strategic planning sessions with the village associations.
Furthermore, the project had a positive impact on community relations in one community. Before the project the community was divided into two political factions that barely talked to each other. The firefly project brought these two parties together within the neutral environment of the electricity association, where people found a way to talk and work productively together.
The project succeeded in providing electricity for lighting in four remote communities. So far 124 families have been provided with batteries and have gained access to clean and affordable energy. Additionally, families who already owned batteries now benefit from the low cost and locally available energy source to recharge these batteries. Moreover, the project provided training and created income opportunities for 12 local technicians. Overall the project contributed to the improvement in living standards of the rural population.
The project demonstrated that firefly technology can be applied successfully. The installation could be replicated in other locations where suitable water sources are available. Positive indicators for replication are the facts that firefly systems are simple and can be produced locally. Investment costs for tools, spare parts and training are reasonable. However, to date the local government has not been particularly supportive, which is likely to slow down further dissemination.
When the project was being implemented several difficulties occurred, resulting in multiple delays. To begin with, organisational problems within AIDFI delayed the implementation of the project. Also the estimation of the number of saplings to be planted was far too high and the estimated costs for the hydro systems were too low. This stresses the importance of sufficient and detailed project planning and coordination. Also, for future projects, numbers and costs should be discussed in advance with the targeted beneficiaries.
Moreover, two sites that had been chosen for the hydro power systems had to be changed, because of concerns of the land owners, and the batteries took nearly five months to be delivered. During the delay, some members withdrew from the associations because they thought the batteries and home systems were a false promise. This shows that the trust of the local population is hard to gain and can easily be lost again. Intensive and open communication with the participants is crucial for the success of a project.
It was also discovered that the people in the communities use the battery charging stations to charge their mobile phones. In future, research into the levels of demand and needs of the local communities should be carried out before project is implemented.