Greater access to energy equals greater prosperity for PNG

Only 13 per cent of the population in Papua New Guinea (PNG) has access to reliable power. The PNG government's plan would see this rise to 70 per cent by 2030 - something that requires a tripling of electricity supply over the next 15 years.

That's a grand ambition by any standard but one to be applauded and, more importantly, supported.

"Energy is an enabler. Without it, not much happens."
Geoff Culbert, GE President and CEO, Australia and New Zealand

ANZ's significant report Powering PNG into the Asian Century outlined what is needed to achieve this target. It really is an outstanding piece of work. Access to energy can open abundant new possibilities for families, communities and the economy of Papua New Guinea.

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Energy is an enabler. Without it, not much happens. PNG's development needs - improving access to clean drinking water and safe sanitation, increasing the productivity of agriculture and the resources industries and improving healthcare - cannot be achieved without it.

Energy truly transforms lives. Imagine the difference it could make to education in PNG if children no longer have to study by candlelight. Imagine the difference it could make to being able to cook meals and heat homes without having to use wood, charcoal or animal waste. Imagine the difference it could make to farmers across PNG, who can run cleaner irrigation systems and processing machines that can improve their yields and incomes.

GE operates in 175 countries around the world and we have a long history of working with governments in developing nations to help them with their biggest challenges. And the challenges we have helped governments solve in other developing markets around the world are no different, and no more insurmountable, to the challenges facing PNG. This gives us enormous confidence that the goal of 70 per cent access by 2030 can be achieved.

In 2008, I had the privilege to work on an assignment with GE in sub-Saharan Africa. We brought together different minds from different disciplines, regions and levels of seniority because sub-Saharan Africa – like PNG today – wanted to inject new thinking and new perspectives into how to solve their astronomical challenge of economic development, growth and social access.

Looking back, that assignment has got to be one of the most challenging, and satisfying, projects in my career. I learnt a lot there but there are four key insights that stay with me as I focus on growth and development in PNG:

Firstly, economic growth is not possible without the right energy infrastructure – roads, rail, clean water, sanitation and healthcare cannot occur without access to reliable sources of electricity.

Secondly, a nation's challenges cannot be solved by government alone. It takes true partnership between government, business and industry – each with real skin in the game – to make real progress.

Thirdly, you should never underestimate the power of a long term plan – it is the opportunity to solve the challenges, not only for today, but for generations to come.

Fourthly (and perhaps the most important lesson): a one-size fits all approach never works and the ideal solution will differ from country to country - and even within regions inside each country.

If PNG is to meet its goal of 70 per cent access to electricity by 2030, we don't believe it can be done through on-grid solutions alone. We believe there is a need for a mix between both on-grid and off-grid solutions and for a mix of different fuel sources – all the while utilising technology that is flexible and scalable from province to province.

Off-grid portable aero-derivative gas systems generating between 500 kilowatt (kW) to 2 megawatt (MW) could provide power to a remote village with a population of 5,000 to 20,000 people. This system could be installed and be generating power long before the grid can ever reach the village. These technologies have already been deployed around the world in remote and challenging environments. Today, they are helping to double the power generation for the people of Myanmar.

Two megawatts of power generation for a remote community in Papua New Guinea might be a small step toward the 2030 forecast of 2000MW but by combining these off-grid solutions with on-grid applications there is the opportunity to make many single steps towards the ultimate goal.

And the fact is, every single megawatt will transform lives. And this is a critical point.

The ANZ report calls for new ideas and new approaches. GE stands ready to act.

But we need everyone at the table - business, government, industry - all working together to achieve what none can do alone.

We are committed to Papua New Guinea. We are committed to seeing 70 per cent of the population have access to electricity. We are committed to investing in its growth and long term vision.

There is a real opportunity here to do something meaningful, to really change lives. The moment is now.

Geoff Culbert is GE President and CEO, Australia and New Zealand. This article first appeared on Geoff's LinkedIn account.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

editor's picks

11 Aug 2015

PNG's electricity generation challenge: Power to the people, power to the economy

Grant Mitchell | Director, Port Jackson Partners

Papua New Guinea's development goals require a tripling of electricity supply by 2030 - growth the existing electricity delivery system will be hard pressed to deliver.

11 Aug 2015

How PNG can power into the Asian Century

Mike Smith | Former Chief Executive Officer, ANZ

Asia's industrialisation is presenting Papua New Guinea with an unprecedented opportunity to fast-track its economic and social development.

15 Oct 2013

'Bold Thinking'

ANZ Corporate Communications |

The fourth report in the ANZ insight series, ‘Bold Thinking: Imagining PNG in the Asian Century’ was released on 15 October 2013.