Ain't No Mountain High Enough
Astride his motorcycle bike, Abdulrauf Manalasal scours the mountains of Central Mindanao for photovoltaic (PV) solar home system clients. And in a region where the level of unenergized households is one of the highest in the country, Abz finds the task of looking for interested buyers a little less daunting, if fraught with possibilities.
He was introduced to the idea of selling PV energy systems to rural households when while working as Community Development personnel for the Alliance for Mindanao Off-grid Renewable Energy or AMORE program, he was tasked to gather barangay associations from Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat for a product demonstration and business meeting with PV suppliers.
The AMORE program had then been preparing for the close of its second phase, and as expansion and sustainability strategy, began to link up the AMORE-served barangays with players from the private sector.
Representatives from a total of 50 community associations – called the Barangay Renewable Energy and Community Development Association or BRECDA – previously organized by AMORE, attended the meeting where they learned of the possibility of extending energy services to more households in their barangays through commercial sales of PV systems.
The AMORE Program – a rural electrification program funded of the United States Agency for International Development in cooperation with the Department of Energy and private energy firms such as the former Mirant Philippines Foundation and Sunpower Foundation, and implemented by Winrock International – had previously introduced energy access through renewable energy to these remote off-grid barangays in Mindanao by installing PV battery charging stations in the community, or solar home systems on an initial 30 households in the barangay. To date, the AMORE Program has energized over 13,000 households in more than 400 rural barangays in Mindanao since 2002.
Extending energy services to more households in the barangay was a function left to the BRECDA, whose capability for further development has been strengthened by AMORE through trainings, and establishment of operation and maintenance fund designed to support expansion of services and sustainability.
That meeting between PV suppliers and the BRECDAs in 2008 resulted in a sales order by the community associations for 313 units of 20 watt-peak solar home systems, which they then sold to residents of more than 10 barangays, from January to August 2009. Sales order for 175 units of 20 watt-peak solar home systems soon followed.
Now on its third phase of implementation after having been in operation for eight years, the AMORE Program aims to pave the way for energy services to reach even more households in remote rural communities, renewable energy systems suppliers and, possibly, financing institutions in tow.
The team-up of energy systems suppliers and lending institutions was first tested in mid-2008 when AMORE, in cooperation with the Department of Energy, implemented an approach in rural electrification where the barangay was given energy and lighting systems for communal facilities such as schools, community or health center, while household electrification was to follow on a commercial basis. Having whetted the community members’ interest in "solar," AMORE then gave them more and introduced the community to a supplier from whom they could purchase individual solar home systems, and to a microfinance institution (MFI) with whom they could work out a comfortable lending and payment scheme.
An example of such MFI is the Mindanao-based Paglaum Multipurpose Cooperative, which piloted its Micro Solar Energy Project in the barangay of Pedagan in Mahayag, Zamboanga del Norte, some 120 kilometers southwest of Pagadian City. By agreeing to a comfortable payment scheme, 20 of Pedagan’s 80 households acquired 20- and 30-watt peak solar home systems.
Meanwhile, Abz is convinced of the viability of a commercial model in energizing off-grid rural communities in Mindanao. The key, he says, is knowing which areas to look at. Doing just that, he blazed trails in uncharted barangays in over 20 towns across Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, North and South Cotabato, Saranggani, and as far as Lanao del Sur.
With referrals from his personal and professional network, and coupled with a creative promotional radio campaign, and assisted by his army of ground sales agents in every barangay, he was able to facilitate the sale of around 700 solar home system units to rural households in Mindanao.
"The success of the PV business in remote barangays in Mindanao hinges on how motivated ground sales agents are. Assisting in all areas of the business from market research to the delivery of systems, up to regular payment collection for systems bought on a lease-to-own scheme, barangay sales agents are an indispensable component in the PV sales machinery in rural Mindanao," he added.
To keep them motivated, Abz worked out an attractive commission scheme that could give the agent up to Php3,000.00 for each system sale. Incentives such as motorcycles – the most useful mode of transportation in mountainous Mindanao – were also given to a number of agents to aid them in their frequent travels to various barangays.
The road to complete rural electrification is long and fraught with challenges. But it is a road Abz is willing to take, for as long as he rides his trusted motorcycle, no barangay, no matter how high up in the mountains, is ever unreachable. AMORE. April 2010