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East Asia & the Pacific

Harnessing Papua New Guinea’s Ever-present Sunshine to Stay Safe and Connected

“Battery blow mi dai” or “my battery is dead” is a complaint that is frequently heard throughout Papua New Guinea. In a country where electricity reaches only around 10 percent of the population, mobile phones are regularly out of battery or switched off to conserve precious power, and people often travel long distances to recharge their phones in major towns.

But those difficulties are set to ease. IFC worked with global communications company Digicel to develop solar mobile-phone charging stations that harness the power of Papua New Guinea’s ever-present sunshine to simultaneously charge up to 20 phones, while also providing street lighting.

30 charging stations are being installed as a trial. The first was launched in Hula, a village two hours from the capital, Port Moresby.

"When the batteries are dead, the phones are useless,” said Hula store owner and phone credit ‘top-up’ agent  Alu Vali. “The charging station is very important because few houses have solar power and we need our phones to be charged.”

Phones in Hula are not only needed to stay in touch with family and friends, but also to provide illumination and security in the isolated village, which has little access to power and minimal light at night.

“Sometimes when women want to give birth, they need to use their phone torch,” Vali explained.

"If any problems come in the village, like night criminals, we need to contact police in the city,” said Hula security guard Vali Broker. “We need this – we are very far from Port Moresby and we have no power. It’s really important for us.”

The pilot is modeled on a successful project in Haiti, where Digicel developed the world’s first large-scale solar mobile-charging solution. The solar stations in Papua New Guinea include a large street light – also powered by the sun – which will help improve night-time safety in the high-crime country.

If the trial is a success, there are plans to build more than 500 stations scattered across rural areas by 2015, allowing 500,000 people in isolated parts of the country to connect with family and friends and to conduct banking and business transactions.

Village entrepreneurs will run the charging stations, share ownership of the system and charge a small fee for phone charging.

“The solar stations will be partly owned by community members in each region – a way to achieve economic growth that includes more sectors of society,” said Gavin Murray, IFC Regional Manager for the Pacific. “The pilot will help entrepreneurs obtain funding to set up the stations, and provide training and support for their maintenance.”

IFC has invested more than $100 million in Digicel to expand its services in the Pacific, including in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu.

The Digicel PNG Solar project is supported by New Zealand Aid and forms part of IFC and the Australian Government’s Pacific Partnership for Sustainable Economic Development.

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