“When we switched on the electricity at our house for the very first time, we sat together, looked at the light, and cried.”
Buachanh Souksy lives with her husband and two young children in Chingcho village in Phongsali, a mountainous region in the northernmost part of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). For years, the lack of electricity had severely limited the family’s productivity and mobility and raised safety concerns in the evenings.
That all changed in 2016, when Ms. Souksy’s wooden house on stilts was connected to the country’s electricity grid. She no longer had to rush home midafternoon to cook dinner, leaving her more time to plant rice, vegetables, and bananas in the fields.
It has become easier to handle physically demanding and time-consuming household tasks, thanks to small electric household appliances such as a rice cooker, grinder, and food processor, she said. Her children now study at night. Her husband keeps his phone charged, making it easier to connect with buyers of his produce and explore different business channels.
Ms. Souksy at home with her husband and two sons (May 2021). Photo by: Mr. Khamphone Sichange, Electricity Officer, Phongsali Province
“When we switched on the electricity at our house for the very first time, we sat together, looked at the light, and cried,” said Ms. Souksy, 27.
The project gave no-interest credit to poor households to gain electricity access. It significantly improved the living conditions of the poor, especially the safety and mobility of women and children.
Energy access for 24,000 households
Ms. Souksy’s family benefited from the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) $20 million Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Northern Power Transmission Project, which expanded electricity access to more than 24,095 households, including 8,832 poor households living in the provinces of Phongsali, Xaignabouli, and Vientiane.
The project connected the transmission line from substation BounNeua district, Phongsali province to the community. Photo Credit: ADB Project Team
The project constructed nearly 400 kilometers of transmission lines and provided no-interest credit to poor households to access electricity. It also helped draft a strategic framework to improve energy efficiency and renewable energy and a national strategy on the use of hydropower. The project also boosted the two-way power trade between the Lao PDR and Thailand.
The 2010–2019 project was implemented by the government-owned Électricité du Laos (EDL), which also manages electricity imports and exports from the national electricity grid. It followed ADB’s 2017–2020 country partnership strategy for the Lao PDR, which prioritized assisting the government in providing stable power supply in rural areas.
“The project supported the government’s power to the poor scheme and contributed to government efforts to successfully expand access to electricity to more than 90% of households by 2020,” said ADB Country Director for the Lao PDR Sonomi Tanaka. “The project also bolstered inclusive economic growth in the Lao PDR and regional cooperation and integration. It helped the country continue to export energy to Thailand and increase its foreign currency earnings.”
“ADB’s assistance has enabled the poor—particularly women—not only to have access to electricity but also to have more opportunities for income generation and for increased connections to mobile phones, TVs, and other Lao language-based media.”
Access to energy means access to opportunity
Having access to electricity has allowed some beneficiaries to start small businesses at home, ranging from handicrafts production to carpentry and retail. It also increased the use of mobile phones to 86%, up from 67%. The level of indoor air pollution also dropped, as more households replaced diesel-fueled wick lamps with electric lighting and wood stoves with rice cookers.
Poor households were provided with a free electricity meter and free connection and wiring service, as well as a no-interest credit of 700,000 kip (an equivalent of $70) to access electricity, to be repaid in 35 months at 20,000 kip a month. In collaboration with the Lao Women’s Union, the project organized community meetings to explain the credit scheme to vulnerable communities, including poor households, ethnic groups, and households headed by women.
“ADB’s assistance has enabled the poor—particularly women—not only to have access to electricity but also to have more opportunities for income generation and for increased connections to mobile phones, TVs, and other Lao language-based media,” said EDL’s branch manager in the Phongsali province Ounneua Sivanpheng. “Before, when we visited provincial villages, only men spoke to us, since women did not speak the language.”
Ms. Souksy, who belongs to the Akha ethnic group and speaks a local dialect, improved her Lao language skills by watching TV. Before the family had access to electricity, Ms. Souksy’s husband had been the only member of the family speaking Lao and attending village meetings. Now, she said, “I am confident to participate in village meetings and speak to outsiders because I understand Lao language more than before.”