International Projects

  • International Projects

    Since 2003, the ATA has been working with East Timorese communities to provide clean, renewable lighting and electricity. We have helped install solar lighting and power to more than 1960 homes and 105 community centres, orphanages, schools and hospitals in remote rural villages and have trained 180 village-based solar technicians.

    Funding through the Google Impact Challenge 2014 enabled us to develop a solar lighting prototype for households with enhanced functionality and performance monitoring features. In 2015-16 we rolled out the system to 600 homes in three districts of East Timor and trained 30 village-based solar technicians.

    In 2017 the ATA and partners lit up a further 185 rural homes and trained eight new village-based solar technicians, directly benefiting about 1300 people. A grant from the Andrew McNaughtan Foundation is enabling us to work on a new ‘Guiding Lights’ project - developing picture-based guides for accessible community education on solar energy.

    Watch our short video to see what we do in East Timor.


    ATA’s International Projects Group (IPG) is comprised of the International Projects Manager (with extensive experience in international community development) and a small team of in-house, professional volunteers, contractors, engineers and trainers who have worked on solar projects in East Timor for many years.

    We have a strong focus on training East Timorese people to install and manage their own solar power and lighting. We do this by working in partnership with community groups in East Timor and Australia.

    Our aim is to develop a model that can be scaled up and replicated throughout other rural areas of the country, and in other developing countries. Evaluation will be a key part of this learning. To date, we have shared our learning and resources with other not-for-profit groups in Australia and Papua New Guinea. A toolkit is being developed to facilitate the sharing of our experience with others.

    The IPG meets regularly to provide technical design and training advice.

    East Timor is a least developed country. Many rural communities live in remote and inaccessible areas often with poor access to essential services.

    Thirty percent of houses in East Timor do not have access to the centralised electricity grid. About half of those use solar panels for their lighting needs. The other half (about 30,000 homes) have to rely on kerosene and candles for lighting, the price of which is a burden on families’ limited income, meaning many have no light source after dark.

    Energy poverty generates poor health and environmental degradation, limits economic growth and contributes to poor education and gender inequities.

    The ATA aims to light up off-grid homes in remote areas.


    The Village Lighting Scheme (VLS) has been specifically designed for East Timorese households, taking into consideration both environmental and community strengths.

    The project is based on a community ownership and management model, and delivered through a user-pays-in system.  This ensures that the community is committed to the long-term sustainability of the project.

    ATA does not have a physical presence in East Timor, and it is our aim to empower local organisations and people to manage their systems into the future without us.  Through investing in skills development and local partnerships, we are transferring knowledge and power to East Timorese people.

    Community engagement and mobilisation ensure a VLS management committee is set up. Households pay the management committee a small installation fee and then a regular monthly fee to cover the cost of maintenance, repairs, and spare parts (this fee is less than the average monthly expenditure on kerosene prior to installation).

    Local technicians are trained to install, repair, and maintain the solar systems. They are paid for their services from the maintenance fund. To date, 180 local technicians have been trained in villages.

    For an overview of how the project elements work together to contribute to our goal, please see our Theory of Change diagram.



    The ATA has partnered closely with an East Timorese training institution, Centro Nacional de Emprego e Formação Profissional (CNEFP), to ensure that the assembly, installation and maintenance of the Village Lighting Scheme (VLS) systems will form the basis of a sustainable industry in East Timor. ATA provides refresher training and mentoring to CNEFP to deliver the local technician training, oversee installations and conduct audits.

    Back in 2010, thanks to AusAID funding, ATA developed East Timor’s first Solar Photovoltaic national curriculum. CNEFP has since taught the curriculum and train-the-trainer program to over 230 solar technicians (including 42 women), helping to create jobs and local industry.

    The ATA has formed a partnership with a local NGO called Natiles, to manage community engagement and social monitoring. This is crucial to strengthening the community ownership and management model, and overseeing the village committees.

    The ATA partnered with another East Timorese organisation – Roman Luan – on Atauro island. Roman Luan conducted a feasibility study to look at a future community managed maintenance scheme on Atauro island.

    The Government of East Timor, in conjunction with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is writing a National Renewable Energy Law. This is bringing together existing projects and providing the means to develop new projects. ATA is taking part in this process as we are committed to ensuring that the ambitious target of 100% rural electrification with renewable energy is met. Going forward, ATA will have a much stronger partnership and collaboration with the Government of East Timor, and specifically with the new National Renewable Energy Authority, the peak government body regulating and co-ordinating renewable energy projects.


    The Village Lighting Scheme (VLS) system is unique as it has been specifically designed and developed in house by engineers to meet the needs of East Timorese households and to withstand external threats to system function.

    It is comprised of a small 30W solar panel installed on the roof, a 26 Ah battery and microcontroller installed in the house, 3x3W LED lights, 1x1W LED light, a USB charging port for mobile phones, and a USB rechargeable torch.

    The 3W LED lights are for installation in the kitchen, the main living room, and near a table for reading and/or income-generating activity purposes.  The 1W LED light is an automatic night light by the front door to provide security.

    The system has been designed to be robust, reliable, and tamper-proof to limit opportunity for disassembly and use of parts for other purposes or for sale.  It is not limited by fixed cable lengths, allowing technicians to place lights anywhere requested by householders.  An internal Wi-Fi chip can transmit performance data to a mobile phone or other smart device.  The battery is large enough to get through several days of cloudy weather.  The system is also easily maintained by locally trained technicians, does not rely on one manufacturer for parts, and these parts are readily available in Dili.


    ATA won the United Nations Association of Australia’s World Environment Day Clean Energy Award in June 2016 in recognition of its work for bringing solar-powered lighting to remote villages in East Timor.

    Kate Greenwood, ATA’s international projects manager, paid tribute to the volunteers who have been a crucial part of the Village Lighting Scheme:

    “The International Projects Group started with a handful of people in Melbourne who saw a need. It has blossomed into a wonderful network of individuals who have made trips to East Timor, installed solar, trained people, developed specific solar units, and just generally donated an enormous amount of their time and energy.”

    For more information on the award, please see ATA UNAA Media Release.


    The International Projects Group holds regular planning sessions, meetings and publicity nights. To get involved, contact: You can also support ATA’s work in East Timor with a tax deductible donation to ATA Renewable Energy Development Fund.

    • Donate $50 to buy a solar panel for a family in East Timor.
    • Donate $300 to buy a whole solar power system for a family in East Timor.
    • Donate $500 to buy a whole solar power system and train a local solar technician in East Timor.
    • Donate other: give as little or as much as you like. Every dollar counts.