PowerSmart's Tokelau solar project nears completion, wins award
Gavin Evans Wed, 17 Oct 2012
PowerSmart will shortly commission the third and final unit in its three-atoll solar generation project in the Tokelau Islands.
The Tauranga-based firm is the lead contractor in the $7 million development which will free the communities there of their dependence on increasingly expensive diesel generation.
The 1 MW project is one of the largest off-grid solar power systems in the world and will make Tokelau the first community in the world to meet all its electricity needs with solar energy, PowerSmart says. Last week the development won PowerSmart the Clean-tech and Sustainability section of the NZ Innovators Awards.
PowerSmart managing director Mike Bassett-Smith says getting the tender for the Tokelau project ahead of companies from all over the world was a "big win" for the four-year old business.
"News of the contract has also reached our New Zealand residential customers and has led to an increase in enquiries by home owners requesting grid connected solar power to offset their increasing power bills," he says.
The Tokelau Renewable Energy Project, funded by New Zealand Aid, was a collaboration between PowerSmart and Canberra-based energy consulting firm IT Power Australia. Work started in mid-June.
The project involves the installation of 4,032 photovoltaic panels, 392 inverters and 1,344 batteries across the three atolls. It will replace a series of diesel generators which were burning about 200 litres of fuel a day to supply the islands' 1,500 inhabitants.
While the original tender had sought a system capable of meeting 90 per cent of the islands' electricity needs, creative design and the scale of the PowerSmart proposal means the new system will be sufficient to meet a 50 per cent increase in demand without recourse to diesel generation.
The first system, on Fakaofo atoll, was switched on in early August after a six-week construction period. The Nukunonu system was connected in mid-September, and the final system on Atafu is on schedule for commissioning at the end of the month.
Bassett-Smith says the company is preparing to move on to other projects.
PowerSmart has 21 staff, making it the largest solar power company operating in New Zealand, he says. It is also a panel member to the solar school programme in Canberra, where the capital territory government is providing $51 million for schools to install solar and other renewable power systems.