In an Indonesian Village, Solar Light Drives Gender-Equitable Economy and Improves Welfare

Konda Ngguna is a homemaker who lives in the village of Laindeha, Sumba Island, Indonesia. In the past, Laindeha turned almost completely dark once the sun sets. With a baby in the house, Konda’s family felt an urgent need for long-lasting and safe light to tend to the baby in the evening. That is why when the opportunity came to use the plug-and-play home solar system, Konda volunteered as one of the first users in Laindeha.

Women in Sumba hold the main responsibility to prepare food and care for households. Some women also work in crafts such as weaving. But with limited time during the day and lack of lighting in the evening, the production is low, hence yields a very low income. Lack of access to energy hinders women’s participation in economic activities, which contributes to gender inequality and poverty on the island.

Konda herself seeks to contribute to her family’s income. Apart from taking care of her family, she manages a small grocery shop she sets up at her house. When they were using kerosene lanterns, Konda’s family turned off the light at night for fear of fire caused by kerosene spill. In that period, the family conducted their activities in a rush during daytime. Konda always made sure to finish cooking by 6 PM, and to close her small shop when it got dark.

The PowerWells home solar system is produced by repurposing electronic waste. It provides renewable energy designed for the rural off-grid homes, typically using candles and kerosene lanterns. The generated power brings the villagers light, allowing them to charge their phones, and to use basic home appliances.

With significant renewable energy potential, Indonesia is poised to achieve its target of 23 per cent share of renewables in total energy consumption by 2025 – if policy, technology, and finance are in place to support it. The country’s installed solar capacity only reached 172 MW in 2020, out of its 523.6 GW potential. Scaling up renewables deployment with a focus to increase access to electricity in areas like Sumba is the right direction towards just and inclusive transition.

Homeowners in Konda’s village purchased the solar system through a social entrepreneurship scheme. They sign long-term contracts with small monthly repayments, which do not have to be cash. With the financial support of the Honnold Foundation and in collaboration with Sumba Sustainable Solutions, KOPPESDA Foundation – the local organisation that started and manages the initiative – also accepts woven palm leaf bags, virgin coconut oil, and bamboo poles as payment.

The solar-generated light changed Konda’s life immediately. “Having electricity that lasts into the evening has improved our life. I no longer cook in a hurry before the sun sets, or rush to my neighbour’s house to charge my phone,” Konda said. “And since my shop has longer open hours, I earn more from the business, increasing my family’s income.”

Konda also sees other women in her village contribute to improving their families’ economy after using the solar system. Women in Konda’s village who earn their extra income from weaving can now weave in the evening after they finish their daytime chores such as farming and cooking. Some of them can now double their productions within two-week of weaving thanks to the extended life of electricity.

Inside her own household, Konda sees her children continue to study even when it is dark with the help of the solar light. And if her baby needs anything at night, she can immediately switch the light on which can last until the sun rises. For Konda, the practical renewable energy solution does not only eliminate the risk of fire from kerosene spill, but also improves her family’s and the villagers’ quality of life. “We need more households to benefit from it. With electricity, women in the village, especially young mothers who have babies to tend to, can take care of their families with ease and be more productive,” she said.

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