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Transformative power of innovative street lighting in Vanuatu

Photo credit: UNDP

Public lighting has long been associated with safety. Before the advent of modern electricity, cities and communities ceased most activities at sunset. Despite modern advancements in electricity, many places in the world lack proper lighting, and sunset ends productive use of time for commercial, community and personal activities.

In Vanuatu, a small island developing state with 84 relatively small islands distributed across the Pacific Ocean, an innovative urban planning process is underway using solar street lights. Vanuatu is one of the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change and natural disasters. Vanuatu also has a significantly higher rate of gender-based violence than the global average. The Climate Investment Platform is supporting a game-changing initiative by the Vanuatu Department of Energy that will contribute to energy independence and women's public safety.

Energy in Vanuatu

With no known fossil fuel resources, the energy sector in Vanuatu is highly dependent on fossil fuel imports leading to high energy costs. In addition, the geographical remoteness of Vanuatu and many of its dispersed islands exacerbates its exposure to fuel price volatility. According to the Asian Development Bank, around 75 percent of Vanuatu's population live in rural areas and has limited access to electricity nationwide, with the national electrification rate at a mere 33 percent.

In a demonstration of its commitment to the sustainable energy transition, the Government of Vanuatu updated its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) by highlighting its approach on 100 percent renewable energy in the electricity sub-sector contingent upon appropriate financial and technical support made available by 2030. Led by the Vanuatu Department of Energy, it has set targets to increase the share of modern, sustainable renewables in the energy mix, mainly to replace costly fossil-fuel imports for power generation.

The National Green Energy Fund, established in 2018, is a national financing vehicle designed to assist the Government of Vanuatu achieve its National Energy Roadmap targets through both public and private investment in technology and infrastructure across Vanuatu. UNDP has supported the Department of Energy to remove the barriers to achieving Vanuatu's National Energy Road Map targets, including ongoing renewable energy capacity building interventions at the community level.

Here comes the Sun

Reliable public electrification is critical for socio-economic development, but it can also drain public finances due to the high cost of fossil fuel imports. Currently, the Port Vila Municipality pays the local utility company UNELCO, to maintain and operate street lights. One of the 10 projects selected by the Climate Investment Platform to receive the Thomas Jensen Energy Transition Award is the Solar Street Lighting project in Vanuatu. The Project aims to provide solar street lighting to the entire area of the Port Vila Municipality from the outer areas into the town center and to three moat populated suburbs in the peri-urban regions of Efate Island.

The Solar Street Lighting project will reduce the dependency on fossil fuels and provide significant savings for public finances. Moreover, in a place that is prone to extreme weather events, solar lighting will also be useful in emergency disaster recovery situations. The Climate Investment Platform (CIP) will assist in conducting a full feasibility study and the development of the financial and Operation and Maintenance mechanism to ensure the project's sustainability. Once successfully implemented, the project could be scaled up and replicated in other municipalities on other islands in Vanuatu. The CIP supported project is another addition to the portfolio of solar projects supported by UNDP, including 19 community-scale solar PV systems benefiting more than 1500 rural households.

Intersectional gender-inclusive outcomes

Photo credit: UNDP

Dimly lit urban and rural areas exclude women and girls from public spaces, increase feelings of insecurity and limit their economic independence. The correlation between low or no street lighting, crime, street harassment and gender-based violence is well documented. The gender baseline survey conducted by the GEF-funded Barrier Removal for Achieving the National Energy Road Map Targets of Vanuatu (BRANTV) highlights renewable energy's crucial role in women's empowerment. The BRANTV project's support of productive use of energy has helped women in Vanuatu with food security and income generation. The Solar Street Lighting project will further enhance the quality of life for women in Vanuatu.

By focusing on the outer areas heading into the town center, the Solar Street Lighting project will help light low-traffic pedestrian heavy locations that women often use. In addition to providing safety, increased street lighting can provide significant economic benefits. They allow for increased commercial hours, particularly for women working in the informal sector and as street vendors. It can also reduce the number of people, especially women, who avoid leaving their homes at night, reduce social isolation, and increase community cohesion.

Accelerating action Global Road Map on Energy

The Global Roadmap on Energy, a major outcome of the UN High-level Dialogue on Energy in 2021, calls for a radical transformation of energy access and transition by 2030, while also contributing to net-zero emissions by 2050. The UNDP Strategic Plan 2022-2025 has emphasized energy as one of the six signature solutions and highlighted that access to energy is a precondition for health, education and economic prosperity and taken as an essential multiplier for all the Sustainable Development Goals.

UNDP is committed to helping countries increase energy access and achieve energy transition by investing in clean energy technologies that allow countries to transition from fossil fuels. Through the Climate Investment Platform, a partnership of UNDP, IRENA and SEforALL, the UNDP is supporting the Department of Energy, National Green Energy Fund, Port Vila Municipality, and Shefa Province to shift to sustainable public infrastructure, reduce dependence on fossil fuels and increase energy access.

This was originally published by UNDP Pacific

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