Suriname Looks Into Solar For Remote Communities


PARAMARIBO, Suriname –¬†Suriname’s Government has announced that it will be investing in solar energy to bring electricity to its remote communities. Gunzi, a Maroon village in the upper Suriname River region, will serve as test subject for the project that was announced last Tuesday at the Cabinet of the President.

Alternative energy company WTEC of New Jersey, USA, was contracted to execute the project, in close cooperation with the Ministry of Natural Resources, national electricity company EBS and Anton de Kom University of Suriname.

More than three quarters of Suriname’s landmass is blanketed by thick rainforest; most of the country’s inhabitants live in the capital Paramaribo. Many villages in the sparsely populated hinterland have thus not been hooked up to the EBS grid and make do with noisy, moody, diesel-powered generators that are only switched on at night. Natural Resources Minister Stanley Betterson underscored that bringing electricity to the remote villages will benefit education, industry and development of these areas.

John Goedschalk, the Cabinet’s Coordinator for the Environment, hinted that as “improving the supply of energy for the people is one of this Government’s priority areas,” Government had looked at hydro energy as an alternative. “Solar energy is also an option,” he said.

Last month Government scrapped a proposal to execute a hydro energy project in the hinterland. The TapaJai project would call for submerging 240 kilometres of land along the upper Suriname River and installing a new series of turbines which would ultimately generate 275 megawatts of power. Residents of the surrounding Maroon villages had objected from when the project was suggested.

Joining Government officials at the press conference, WTEC Director Brian Singh said that solar energy is a cost-effective alternative, as Suriname has plenty of sunlight and prices for solar panels are dropping worldwide. Singh announced that his company was donating the US $75,000 plant that will be set up as a pilot in Gunzi.

This 50-household village is ideally suited for the test project, the officials explained. Singh said the plant is already being assembled at the factory, to be shipped; villagers will clear a 30-square-metre piece of land where the plant will be erected. Construction is expected to start next month and be completed by the third quarter of this year. Once up and running the plant will run 24/7 and supply the village with 15 kilowatts per month. Officials said calculations show that the basic demand per household is approximately 300 watts per month. “The basic electricity needs for running a fridge, charging a mobile phone, playing a radio and having light at night will be met,” the President’s cabinet promised.

University students will monitor the Gunzi project for a year and their findings will be used to optimise its use and execute the project in other villages. Environment Coordinator John Goedschalk said that Government is investing in in-depth research to find the ideal mix of alternatives to supply energy; he said the criteria for this mix are accessibility, cost-effectiveness and least impact on the environment.