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[MANILA] Lack of coordination among international donors is resulting in unsustainable solar energy projects in the Philippines. A study published in the Journal of International Development (June 2014) by Jens Marquardt, a consultant of the Environmental Policy Research Centre at the Free University of Berlin in Germany, shows that even in solar energy projects where a few donor countries are involved, aid fragmentation negatively impacts on project effectiveness.
Marquardt’s findings bear out an earlier report by the OECD (Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development) that multiple donors in projects can cause fragmented and uncoordinated efforts, resulting in duplication of projects and failure.
Marquardt surveyed four solar rural electrification donor-assisted projects located in remote parts of the Philippines to assess their sustainability.
The projects he examined were those funded by (1) the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) in Isla Verde, Batangas (1990); (2) the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) in Guimaras Island (1994-2001); (3) the UN Development Programme in Palawan (2000-2007), and (4) the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and Winrock International in Mindanao (2002-2013).“Although reports and documentations provide a positive image of success, field trips to project sites tell an opposing story,” Marquardt’s study noted.
In the case of the first three projects, the major causes of collapse included difficulties in equipment maintenance, inadequate or absence of technical training for maintenance personnel, and lack of financial capacity to keep consumable hardware such as batteries.
Marquardt explains in an interview with SciDev.Net that the problem was not only the lack of coordination but also of communication.
“It is quite frustrating to see that solar power projects with very similar designs have been implemented over time. If there was better communication of, say, a GTZ project’s first experiences, it could have prevented similar project designs that failed 10 or 15 years later due to the same reasons that should have already been known,” Marquardt says.
He adds that in the course of project implementation there seem to be shortcomings in communication between donor agencies and the Philippine government on the objectives and the expected results of the whole exercise, leaving little opportunity for rectification and gaining experience. Marquardt says that project monitoring and learning capacity from the government side are also inadequate.
In the case of the USAID-Winrock project, which sought to provide solar home systems and lanterns to more than 22,000 households in 500 remote villages in Mindanao, Marquardt says his report showed mixed results as “some communities managed to self-sustain the project”.
Rodrigo Cabrera, Winrock officer who handled the project for six years, tells SciDev.Net that the reason for the project’s success is “sustainability”. “It was deliberately designed to avoid the pitfalls of similar projects in the past that all ended up as failures,” he says.
Marquardt says that although his field study is not a “comprehensive” overview of donor-driven power projects in the Philippines, it provides vital information about the effects of a “diversified development aid landscape”.
He notes that a key to the success of renewable energy endeavours is knowledge exchange. “Lack of knowledge exchange hinders collective learning from mistakes,” he points out.
Link to abstract in Journal of International Development
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.
Journal of International Development doi: 10.1002/jid.3022 (2014)