Image: Bringing in the solar panels has risks
By Jenny Suo, 3 News
Tokelau is on it's way to becoming the world's first fully solar-powered nation.
A New Zealand team has been working on the three tropical atolls that make up Tokelau and they're just about ready to start switching off the diesel generators.
The sun scorches all year round in Tokelau and now that energy will play a key part in running the island nation.
Workers from Kiwi company Powersmart Solar are just a week away from converting the atoll Fakaofo from being diesel powered to solar powered.
"It's been quite a milestone week for us, we now have all the solar panels erected, 1584 solar modules, all the batteries are in place," says mechanical engineer Dean Parchomchuk.
More than 4,000 solar panels on the atolls will provide electricity to the nation's 1,400 people. The $7.5 million project has been funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and it is being welcomed by the Tokelau community.
"It's going to be an amazing change from using fossil fuel," says Tokelau energy minister Foua Toloa. "It avoids expenses, but also bringing them there, it's dangerous and any spill will affect the environment."
More than 2,000 barrels of diesel are used to generate electricity in Tokelau each year costing more than $1 million.
"To date they have relied on diesel fuel for all their needs, and it's had to be imported, and they're reliant on generators which have had a knack for breaking down," says Mr Parchomchuk.
Speaking in New Zealand Powersmart Solar's director says the project will save money in the long run.
"We would expect this system to repay itself in five years, and have a 20 year life before it needs any sort of significant maintenance," says director Mike Bassett.
Workers on Fakaofo will soon move on to install solar panels on the two remaining atolls, Atafu and Nukunon, and all work is expected to be completed by September.