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An international programme to reduce kerosene use and motivate investment in renewable energy technologies in the Pacific region has received a boost from the Australian government.

The government has provided AU$100,000 (US$89,000) to the Australian Business Council for Sustainable Energy, according to a press release from the Regional Secretariat of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) issued on 12 November.

REEEP — a global public-private partnership that develops clean energy initiatives — will manage the project, which will be developed first in Fiji and Papua New Guinea before being expanded to other countries.

The initiative aims to increase small-scale renewable energy systems — biomass gasification, coconut oil as biofuel and small-scale windpower, for example — supported with one-year microfinance loans.

In Papua New Guinea there are 4.5 million people without access to electricity that spend US$100 million each year on kerosene for lighting, Amy Kean, REEEPSouth East Asia and Pacific regional manager, told SciDev.Net.

"Our goal is to show that these funds can be redirected towards investment in electricity, particularly renewable energy." 

Kean says that white light emitting diode (LED) lighting and low-wattage compact fluorescent bulbs present a low-cost option for the poorer population. Efficient lighting kits can be designed that improve lighting levels by 500–1000 per cent compared to kerosene lighting, and cost a few dollars per week with a 1–2 year loan.

Improved lighting levels mean that children can study and adults can work at home later into the evening. Using bulbs rather than kerosene also cuts down on indoor air pollution and reduces the risk of fire.

REEEP has selected the company Barefoot Power to implement the initiative. which aims to scale-up the strategy to 23 countries by 2011. This would result in over one million households moving from kerosene to modern energy services and will create over 600 jobs, according to REEEP. 

Projects to increase energy access in developing countries are important, said Nick Burn, international teams director of Practical Action, a charity that works with poor communities to develop appropriate technologies.

"Kerosene is a major source of lighting in many countries and this can effectively be substituted to many renewable sources, like solar and micro-hydro. The disparities in access to energy and electricity globally are huge, and work that recognises this and seeks to redress this balance is positive."