Laos is among the 50 poorest countries in the world, and only half of the population have access to the electricity grid. The Lao government is committed to rural electrification but recognises that centralised systems may not be able to deliver electricity to remote, sparsely populated rural areas.
Solar energy is an obvious choice yet many initiatives have proved unsustainable because of dependence on subsidies to cover the upfront costs of the technology. Sunlabob set out to provide high quality solar PV systems to the rural poor through a rental service which avoids upfront costs. A network of trained rural entrepreneurs can respond quickly to any technical hitches in the more remote areas and so maintain quality. By 2007, 1,870 home systems (including 20 larger ones for community use) and 500 solar lanterns were rented to families in 73 different villages. More than 5,600 solar-home-systems had also been sold to the Lao Government, development agencies and commercial enterprises as part of a separate scheme.
Families save money by switching to solar PV, and benefit from cleaner, safer light in the evening for household chores, income generating craftwork and school homework.
Sunlabob has started work in Cambodia and Indonesia, and is exploring possibilities in Bhutan, East Timor, Eastern Africa and Latin America.