Where is the link between energy access and travelling?

Posted on Posted in Work in energy development

I recently spent time on an island Southwest off Cambodia with no vehicles, no roads, no reception and occasionally no boat to connect us to the mainland. Me and my friend stayed in a bungalow with only 2 lightbulbs and no power socket. It was a dream for me – reading and swimming all days, evenings spent at a fireplace talking to strangers. If we had questions we hadn’t known the answer to, we didn’t Google it. We eventually moved onto a next topic and started discussing a new problem. We wanted to stay in touch, so we exchanged contact details with a note: ‘I’ll add you in a few days… Or whenever I leave this place.’

Such days are very much needed to recharge and reconnect with nature and people around me. We started to feel bored after some time and needed to charge our cameras and Kindles. We also needed to research our next destination and book tickets. And we started to be agitated to have the power only between 6pm and 11pm – not long enough to fully charge anything. Trekking through the jungle to another side of the island to connect to spotty WiFi felt like such an advanced technological experience. It felt like we suddenly leaped forward a few years. Although we quickly fell into the screen zombie mode again after leaving the island, this reminder stays with me. I was asking myself: Imagine, what people living without electricity for their lifetime must feel when they finally get an electricity connection?

I set up this website to document my search for off-grid energy solutions made by and for local communities. The website has naturally evolved to be more of a travelling website than a website focused on electricity access solutions. Maybe it’s because I’ve done a lot of moving around in Southeast Asia, primarily interested in exploring new places. But my drive to see electricity access solutions people have developed and talk about the need for a better, more reliable service has been beyond my every trip. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been choosing the most remote destinations to which I have to travel for days.

During my trips, I’ve started recognising the social and economic impacts of energy technology. It confirmed my conviction that people’s motivation and plans for using electricity are very important when deciding about what kind of energy access service would serve them best. My friend’s family in rural Myanmar told me that all they need is light and charging at night. They were not interested in other possibilities of using electricity (fridge, rice cookers). Yet. Indeed, they had light on all night to ensure they would not step on a snake when going to the outside toilet at night. And they were super happy with it.

I do think that even in this family, change will gradually happen. Once they become accustomed to having the basic service they might want to start using other appliances as well. Time will tell. I hope to come back to discuss with them how electricity is changing their life. In the meantime, I’ll keep travelling and writing about it to encourage people to explore the last remotest places on Earth.

Increased energy access and improved infrastructure are conditions for further development through tourism and other economic activities, even at the edge of the world. One organisation that I was lucky to join for a brief period – GHE – specifically stands out with their mission to electrify every single village in the Ladakh, a region lying in the heart of the Indian Himalayas. Worldwide, there is a big opportunity for energy technology to change lives of people in the most dramatic way. I hope to continue being one of the people who are trying to accelerate it. We are a small, but growing community and we continue to inspire each other. I sometimes need to remind myself of how grateful I am for being exactly where I am right now.

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