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9 August 2012

Powersmart switches on the first solar power system in Tokelau

Image: The installation team on Fakaofo atoll

Powersmart has flicked the switch and turned on the first of three solar power systems that will enable Tokelau to become 100% solar powered. The system on Fakaofo Atoll has been under construction for the past 6 weeks and is the first of 3 atolls to become fully solar powered. Work will start on the second atoll immediately and each of Tokelau's three atolls will have their own solar electricity system later this year, allowing Tokelau to meet 100% of their climate change obligations.

Powersmart is the lead contractor for the Tokelau Renewable Energy Project which will replace the diesel electricity systems currently operating on each of the islands with solar power systems and battery storage. For this project Powersmart has collaborated with IT Power Australia, the project is funded by The New Zealand Aid Programme and supported by the Government of Tokelau.

Speaking from Tokelau, Powersmart director and mechanical engineer Dean Parchomchuk says "Once we are done on Fakaofo we still have two more atolls ahead of us, Nukunonu and Atafu and those are going to present different challenges."

"This system is among the largest off-grid solar power systems in the world and the largest solar system being installed in the South Pacific," says director Mike Bassett-Smith. Companies from all over the globe tendered for the project and it was a "big win" for the Mount Maunganui-based company, he said. "News of the contract has also reached our NZ residential customers and has lead to an increase of inquires by New Zealand home owners requesting grid connected solar power to offset their increasing power bills. "

Powersmart was recently ranked 14th in The New Zealand Herald's Green 50 list of top Kiwi companies helping the environment. The company has won many awards including the Sustainable Business Network 'People's Choice Award' and 'Trailblazer Small and Medium Business Award' in 2010. In 2011 they won the SEANZ award for 'Largest Small Scale Renewable/Distributed Generation Installation'. Last month they were also named United Travel Emerging Exporter of the Year at the BNZ Bay of Plenty Export NZ Awards.

Powersmart's core business is the design and installation of high quality solar power systems, from residential/commercial retail systems to complex utility scale projects in New Zealand, Australia and the South Pacific. Powersmart is uniquely experienced in designing solar power systems for harsh and remote environments and has taken special care to design a robust system suitable for tropical atolls. The system is designed with respect to the high ambient temperatures, salt-laden air, and risk of cyclones and/or flooding.

The original tender specification called for the solar systems to supply 90% of Tokelau's electricity demand. Through creative design, project management methodology, and sheer scale Powersmart Solar will be installing solar systems capable of providing 150% of current electricity demand allowing the Tokelauans to expand their electricity use without increasing diesel use.

Mike Bassett-Smith says the company is proud to be leading the project because of the impact it will have on the well-being of the people of Tokelau.

"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."

The change is being welcomed by the Tokelauan community. "It's going to be an amazing change from using fossil fuel," says Foua Toloa. "It avoids expenses, but also bringing them there, it's dangerous and any spill will affect the environment."

Tokelau is made up of three tropical atolls (Fakaofo, Nukunonu, and Atafu) in the South Pacific Ocean. The atolls have a total land area of 10km² and a population of approximately 1,500 people. At present the diesel generators burn around 200 litres of fuel daily on each atoll, meaning more than 2,000 barrels of diesel are used to generate electricity in Tokelau each year costing more than $1 million. The installation of 4,032 solar panels (one megawatt of solar) and batteries across the three atolls will eliminate diesel fuel use and provide consistent high quality electricity.

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