A RENEWABLE ENERGY PROJECT IN TOKELAU CONVERTS SOLAR-GENERATED POWER TO ELECTRICITY. (PHOTO: UN/ARIANE RUMMERY)
Pacific Island Countries are among the most petroleum-dependent nations and territories in the world. However, Tokelau, a group of 3 small atolls in the South Pacific Ocean, will be the first to meet its electricity needs entirely through renewable energy by the end of 2012.
Tokelau has a total land area of 10 square kilometres and a population of around 1400. Its small size, isolation and lack of natural resources are all restraints on its development. Worse, it has to spend approximately NZ$1million (approx. US$ 800,000) annually on imported fossil fuels.
In 2001, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) started to work with the Taupulega's – the village councils on each atoll - in the area of sustainable energy. With funding and technical assistance from UNDP, the first Tokelau National Energy Policy and Strategic Action Plan was endorsed by the government in 2004. Its primary objective was to make Tokelau energy independent through the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. In partnership with France, New Zealand and UNESCO, UNDP supported various preparatory work including resource assessment, feasibility and design studies and the implementation of a solar system pilot demonstration. The organization contributed around US$450,000 and significant technical support during 11 years. Recently the Government of Tokelau succeeded in leveraging approximately NZ$8.5 million (US$ 6.8 million) in grants and soft loans from New Zealand for the project.
The new solar plant is planned to become operational in September 2012.. Around 4,032 solar panels and batteries will be installed across all the three atolls of Tokelau, making the plant one of the largest standalone solar system in the world. The plant will provide 24-hour high quality electricity supply for all islanders, eliminating diesel use, and even produce surplus electricity to allow Tokelaunans to expand on their energy use.
During periods of prolonged cloud cover generators that run on coconut oil will supply power and simultaneously recharge the battery bank.
This hybrid solar-coconut oil system will enable Tokelau to be self-reliant for its electricity needs and be more energy secure, and set it on a carbon-free development path. It will also create employment opportunities and help the local population generate additional income. More importantly, the amount spent annually on the import of fossil fuel will be spared to support social benefits for the islanders.
Tokelau's ambitious goal could not be achieved without the sustained commitment of the government supported by its development partners, including UNDP. The government's long-term determination has been pivotal in overcoming barriers along the way – such as the 25-30 hours boat journey from Samoa to Tokelau to transport materials and other resources.
Tokelau will be the first Small Island Developing State to obtain 100% renewable energy by 2012, while Tuvalu and Cook Islands aim at 2020.