The tiny self governing territory of Tokelau in the South Pacific has become entirely solar-powered, with the third and final photovoltaic solar farm being turned on at the end of October 2012.
Tokelau consists of 3 small atolls with a population of about 1500 people 450km north from Samoa, and a dependent territory of New Zealand. The atolls are low lying with perhaps the highest points just 2 metres above sea level. Rising seas this century threaten the future of these islands with 1 metre rise in global sea level due to climate change conservatively predicted by the end of the century.
The importance of Tokelau going 100 per cent solar and eliminating carbon emissions and providing leadership for the international community wasn't lost on Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) who tweeted:
According to the Pacific Climate Futures website Tokalau can expect by 2030 with the A1B medium emissions scenario to get "Warmer and Much Wetter to Wetter", with annual mean air temperature increases of 1.0 °C and annual mean rainfall increases of 22% relative to 1980-1999. By 2090 the climate is likely to be "Hotter and Much Wetter", with annual mean air temperature increases of 2.5 °C and annual mean rainfall increases of 36% relative to 1980-1999, but two climate models predicted hotter and much drier.
The conversion from using diesel powered electricity to solar power was done with NZ $7.5 million funding from the New Zealand Government aid and development program. New Zealand solar company Powersmart were engaged to design, project manage and build the system.
Work started in mid June on the first system, on Fakaofo atoll and was switched on in early August, followed by the second system on Nukunonu atoll connected in mid-September, and finally the third system on Atafu atoll. The systems entailed installation of 4,032 photovoltaic panels, 392 inverters and 1,344 batteries across the three atolls
“It has been an amazing project to see through from start to finish. I am very proud of our team for the amazing work done within the timeframe of the project schedule. The local Tokelauans have also been paramount in achieving this goal. They should feel proud of their accomplishment because as a community they have helped to build three of the largest off-grid solar power systems in the world.” said PowerSmart Director of Operations, Dean Parchomchuk.
The diesel generators were operated for 18 hours a day and will be replaced with a system providing power 24 hours a day. The installed capacity of the solar systems are now capable of providing 150% of current electricity demand, although the Ulu of Tokelau warned that diesel might still be needed for emergencies, “We are looking at some, for emergencies, maybe we still need diesel. And then maybe we will be making some plans for when diesel will phase out.” They are looking at coconut oil powering generators as an alternative fuel for these occasions.
Tokelau has been using about 2000 barrels of diesel per year at a transport cost alone of about NZ $1 million per year. Stopping the import of this fuel will be a substantial expense saving and is also estimated to save 12,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere over the life of the project.
Watch this interview with Tino Vitale, the leader of the delegation that represented Tokelau at the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts this year who outlined some of the climate impacts being felt on Tokelau, including extensive drought, coastal erosion from rising seas, changes in seasonal fishing. Tokelau is walking the talk on climate change:
"All across the Pacific there are clear issues with the current and expected future costs of electricity generated using diesel, not to mention the environmental costs and risks of unloading diesel drums on tropical atolls. Energy costs underpin the economic and social development of these nations and making a positive impact on these issues is the single most important reason we started this business." said PowerSmart Managing Director, Mike Bassett-Smith.
- Powersmart News, 28 October 2012 - PowerSmart finishes Tokelau Renewable Energy Project
- New Zealand Aid Programme, March 2012 - Tokelau: a leading light in renewable energy