June 22, 2013

Solar Home Systems in Off-Grid Thailand: Five Questions with Salinee Tavaranan

Salinee Tavaranan heads a new kind of solar company that supplies a full-service package to communities on Thailand’s border with Myanmar. SunSawang sells 2.5 watt solar-powered lanterns and cell phone chargers and AC and DC photovoltaic systems. They include maintenance of their products and the repair of solar products provided by other organizations, including the Thai government. To provide that service, Sunsawang trains community members and hires them to sell and maintain the hardware.

Salinee is a solar engineer and graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 2003. Shortly thereafter, she joined the Border Green Energy Team, which promoted renewable energy in her native country. Then she founded Sunsawang as an offshoot of BGET. She continues to volunteer at BGET, heading a center called the Grace Garden Project. We asked her five questions.

E4C: Sunsawang doesn’t just sell solar products, you also provide maintenance training and service. Can you explain why that’s important?

ST: We provide solar energy products and services to people living in the rural area in Thailand. The products include the refurbished of home systems which were installed by the government in 2004. Without the maintenance plan from the government, most of these home systems had stopped working. Renewable energy applications are not sustainable by themselves. They require maintenance from the people with the proper knowledge.

E4C: What does a day in the life of a solar technician in Thailand look like?

ST: First of all, he/she would help with the new installation in their village. They will be training on the theory and hands-on knowledge and maintain the systems in the nearby villages once a month. When there is a problem, the customers will call them to check it. They will repair or replace with the working equipment. The technicians also help with the annual fee collection.

E4C: When did you first realize that you’re in the right line of work? Do you have a story for us?

ST: I realized that I was in the right line of work when I worked with Border Green Energy Team for a few years. Here’s the story I wrote for an event.

When I was a little girl my father asked me what I want to be when I grew up. All I knew at that time was that I wanted to be able to help people. During an electrical engineering workshop in ninth grade when I was fourteen, I knew exactly that I wanted to be an engineer when I grew up. Not knowing how my desire to help others would align with my dream to become an engineer, I went for it anyway and hoped that it would come together one day.

After graduating with a master’s degree in solar energy engineering, I searched for where I could use my knowledge to make a difference. Then, this great opportunity working with BGET was created for me to come back to my home country and use my engineering knowledge to help the underprivileged people along the border of Thailand and Burma. Not many people receive a chance to do what they are passionate about and interested in. I consider myself as one of the blessed ones.

Now, I have a dream to help even more people through our social enterprise. To be able to achieve this, I need to reach out to more people, improve myself with needed skills, and become a bridge that will bring in the resources to where they are needed most. Throughout my life, I’ve considered myself to be an achiever. I have clear visions for what I want to accomplish. I set up short and long-term goals to figure out what I need to make it happen. I always have dreams and desire to make them come true. This way of thinking keeps reminding me to strive for my best and not give up easily.

E4C: What is one of the common misconceptions about solar technology or other technologies that you run into among the communities where you work?

ST: There is unlimited power that they can use from renewable energy.

E4C: Ten years from now, what changes would you like to see in the communities that you work with now?

ST: The improvement in people’s lives include social, education, economic, and environment.

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