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Posted on on June 4th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (


UNEP Announces Winners of 2008 Sasakawa Prize –
Bringing Renewable Energy to Remote Communities: Projects from Peru and Lao PDR Share Prestigious Environment Award.

NAIROBI/WELLINGTON, 4 June 2008 – Two projects bringing renewable energy to
villages in Peru and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic have been awarded
the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Sasakawa Prize for 2008.

The two winning projects are Sunlabob Rural Energy Ltd (Lao PDR) and
Practical Action (Peru). Both projects are bringing clean power – solar
and hydro – to remote rural communities that do not have access to grid
electricity, on the eastern slopes of the Andes and in the farthest-flung
regions of the Lao PDR.

The UNEP Sasakawa Prize, worth $200,000, is awarded yearly to individuals
or institutions which have made a substantial contribution to the
protection and management of the environment. The winners, who will each
receive $100,000, were chosen by a five-member jury from a shortlist of six
projects at a meeting in Tokyo.

The Prize acts as an incentive for grassroots environmental efforts that
are sustainable and replicable. It recognizes extraordinary initiatives
from around the world that make use of innovation and groundbreaking
research and ideas and empower people at the local level.

This year’s theme for the award was “Moving towards a low carbon economy”,
the theme of World Environment Day 2008. The shortlist included four other
outstanding projects bringing clean energy to thousands of people, from
families in the Philippines to rural households in south India and prisons
in Rwanda.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director,
said: “Addressing the monumental energy challenge of the 21st century
involves practical projects at ground level that bring tangible changes to
the way people live. Sunlabob and Practical Action are showing tremendous
leadership in bringing clean energy to remote communities in Peru and the
Lao PDR, and in doing so they are setting further examples of the energy
alternatives available to the developing but also the developed world.”

The Winners

Sunlabob Rural Energy Ltd., set up in 2001, is bringing energy to remote
rural communities in the Lao PDR, a country where just 48 per cent of the
population has access to grid electricity, mostly in cities and town.
Through Sunlabob, over 1,800 solar-home-systems (SHS) and 500 solar
lanterns are being rented to families in 73 different villages across the

In an area where most people rely on highly polluting kerosene lamps, the
initiative rents out solar lighting at a lower price than kerosene,
providing families with a real incentive to switch to the cleaner energy.
The cheapest solar systems costs 35,000 kip per month ($3.80) to rent,
while households typically spend 36,000 to 60,000 kip per month ($4 to
$6.60) on kerosene for lighting. As well as being far less sustainable
than solar energy, kerosene lamps can be dangerous, causing burns, starting
fires and polluting the air indoors.

The equipment is rented through Village Energy Committees (VEC) selected by
the whole community; this puts the community in control of setting prices,
collecting rents and performing basic maintenance.

The potential for growth in the use of solar PV in the Lao PDR is huge.
Sunlabob is installing systems at a rate of 500 per year, and a new
investment this year will allow it to scale up to 2,500 systems per year,
and 5,000 per year after that.

The project is also highly replicable. Sunlabob is already starting work
in Cambodia and Indonesia, and is exploring possibilities with interested
potential partners in Bhutan, East Timor, Eastern Africa and Latin America.
(See…, for more information.)

Practical Action, founded in 1966, is working in Peru’s eastern Andes where
68 per cent of the population – around 5 million people – do not have
access to electricity. The project makes use of the region’s vast
potential for hydroelectricity: to date, 47 micro-hydro schemes have been
installed in the area through Practical Action, bringing clean power to
about 30,000 people.

Through this project, Practical Action is also boosting local industry, as
most of the turbines are manufactured by small companies in Peru to
Practical Action designs – with each company making three or four turbines
a year. Practical Action says it sees local manufacture as a key step
towards widespread use of renewable energy.

The electricity supply is boosting the development of the remote
communities. Previously, people moved away to start businesses in places
where the infrastructure was better, but the electricity from the
micro-hydro schemes has brought them back. Some villages have doubled in
size, with people returning and others starting or expanding businesses
including restaurants, bakeries, furniture makers, welders and internet
cafes. (See, for more information.)

The UNEP Sasakawa Prize was originally created in 1982 by the late Ryoichi Sasakawa.

The Prize wasre-launched in its current format in 2005, and is currently chaired by Mr.
Sasakawa’s son, Yohei Sasakawa of Japan’s Nippon Foundation.

The five members of the 2008 UNEP Sasakawa Prize jury are UNEP Executive
Director Achim Steiner, Nippon Foundation Chairman Yohei Sasakawa, 2004
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Professor Wangari Maathai, 1995 Nobel Chemistry
Prize Laureate Professor Mario Molina, and Ms Wakako Hironaka, Member of
Japan’s House of Councillors.

As well as the two winning projects, the 2008 shortlist also included four
other projects bringing renewable energy to remote communities in Africa
and Asia.

The Kigali Institute of Science, Technology and Management has
brought biogas power to six prisons in Rwanda, halving the need for
firewood and improving sanitation for 30,000 prisoners.

The AlternativeIndigenous Development Foundation is installing hydro-powered water pumps
for poor communities in the Philippines.

The Mwanza Rural Housing Programme is training villagers in northern Tanzania to make high-quality
bricks from local clay, fired with agricultural residues rather than wood.

And SKG Sangha has set up a biogas programme in southern India to replace
fuelwood with biogas for cooking in rural households, and also to increase
household income by making a saleable fertilizer from biogas residue and
other unmanaged agricultural organic waste.

For more information, please visit the UNEP Sasakawa Prize website at: or e-mail:  sasakawaprize at

To find out more about World Environment Day, go to:


Nick Nuttall, Spokesperson/Head of Media, UNEP on Tel: +41-79-596-5737,
E-mail:  nick.nuttall at
Or Anne-France White, Associate Information Officer, at tel:
+254-20-762-3088, Mobile: +254-728-600-494, or e-mail:
 anne-france.white at

Jim Sniffen
Information Officer
UN Environment Programme
New York
tel: +1-212-963-8094/8210
 info at

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