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How Solar Power Is Changing The Lives Of Some In The Philippines


In many parts of the developing world, tech entrepreneurs are trying to solve long-standing problems. We visit two of these places on this week's All Tech Considered.


SHAPIRO: First to Occidental Mindoro, an island in the Philippines where power outages are a big problem. They're also an opportunity for a local solar energy company. Michael Sullivan reports from the town of Paluan.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Good luck getting an ice cream in Paluan before Solar Philippines came to town last December and started providing power 24 hours a day.

JENNIFER FALLURIN: (Foreign language spoken).

SULLIVAN: "Brownout," says high school teacher Jennifer Fallurin. "Before, if we wanted an ice cream, we had to drive to Mamburao, a town about 30 miles away," she says. Now she and her two kids can get ice cream anytime they want and use their fans at night, too. Fallurin teaches at the high school here where graduating senior Sharmane Teranea says 24-hour power is a godsend.

SHARMANE TERANEA: (Foreign language spoken).

SULLIVAN: "Now we can use our computers to finish our projects and meet our deadlines," she says, "especially when we used to have to do our homework at night using lamps."

LEANDRO LEVISTE: We're starting this in Paluan because it is the worst-served town on the island. It was dubbed by one of its own congressman as the brownout capital of the Philippines. So if we could do this in Paluan, hopefully it is clear that we can do this in any part of the Philippines.

SULLIVAN: That's Leandro Leviste, the 25-year-old CEO of Solar Philippines who dropped out of Yale to start the company five years ago, seeing an opportunity in solar that traditional power providers didn't. He started with commercial projects like malls and other businesses before getting the idea of serving communities like Paluan.

LEVISTE: The problem in the Philippines is not the shortage of power on the grid but the weakness of the grid to deliver electricity to areas that are poorly served where, as a result, economic development has yet to take off.


SULLIVAN: At a micro level, that's already happening in Paluan. Amarlito Lomocso is a fisherman who says 24-hour power means more money in his pocket.

AMARLITO LOMOCSO: (Foreign language spoken).

SULLIVAN: "Before," he says, "we couldn't stay out the whole night because we didn't have ice. We couldn't keep our catch fresh. Now that ice is easily available in the market," he says, "we can stay out longer, catch more and get a better price on the market" - a market where merchants no longer worry about keeping frozen foods that might spoil or run expensive generators to keep that from happening. And the 24-hour power is 30 percent cheaper than what residents used to pay for far less. Just a few hundred yards from the ocean, operations manager Wardee Cabaraban takes me on a tour of the wind-swept solar farm - nearly 6,000 solar panels that help provide power for the town of 16,000.

WARDEE CABARABAN: During daytime, the solar energies that are harnessed from the solar panels are the ones charging the Tesla batteries that we have here. And during nighttime, the battery and the genset will be sharing load for the entire municipality.

SULLIVAN: Back in Manila, his boss Leandro Leviste says teaming up with Tesla was an easy call.

LEVISTE: We chose Tesla because they shared our mission in bringing this to areas that were poorly served in a very fast time at a very competitive cost.

SULLIVAN: Leviste says he hopes to partner with Tesla in the future and has ambitious plans to provide the same service to a hundred more communities within a year. Tona Oposa, a lawyer who specializes in renewable energy, says bring it.

TONA OPOSA: You don't see it because of the way we try to present the Philippines as a rising economy in Asia, but there are a lot of these places that do suffer from energy poverty. It would be a game-changer for a lot of these underserved communities.

SULLIVAN: And a driver for economic development in those communities as well, Oposa says. President Rodrigo Duterte says he wants to end energy poverty countrywide by 2022. Leandro Leviste thinks his company can help reach that goal. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Paluan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.