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November 21, 2012

Three Remote Atolls in the South Pacific Go 100 Percent Solar



Tokelau—a territory of New Zealand in the South Pacific Ocean that comprises three tropical coral atolls with a combined land area of five square miles and a population of about 1,400—is now meeting nearly 100 percent of its electricity needs through solar generation.

“The Tokelau Renewable Energy Project is a world first. Tokelau’s three main atolls now have enough solar capacity, on average, to meet electricity needs,” explained New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully, who has put an emphasis on renewable energy in the Pacific under the New Zealand Aid Program, adding, “Until now, Tokelau has been 100 percent dependent upon diesel for electricity generation, with heavy economic and environmental costs.”

The $8.5 million solar power project involved constructing three solar photovoltaic-based mini grids; Mount Maunganui, New Zealand-based PowerSmart designed and deployed the project—including battery storage, to maintain electricity overnight or when it is cloudy; and an inverter/charger system, to convert DC electricity from photovoltaic modules into AC electricity for use in homes and to charge the battery.


Above one of Tokelau’s three tropical coral atolls (courtesy of the New Zealand Aid Program)

According to the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade, “Undertaking a project of this scale on all three atolls [has been] no mean feat. The closest atoll is around 500km [311 miles] north of Samoa; there are no airstrips or wharves, and the only access is a long boat trip from Samoa that ends outside the reefs, where a landing barge takes passengers and equipment to shore. Offloading goods in the swell is challenging. However, soon the job will become easier since almost 2,000 barrels of diesel a year will no longer be required to generate electricity.”

In addition to the work in Tokelau, New Zealand is helping Tonga to build a one-megawatt solar photovoltaic power plant; plans are afoot in the Cook Islands to transform its entire sector from imported diesel to renewable energy; and Tuvalu and Samoa are undertaking energy sector investment planning work.

“Completed on time and on budget, the project is an excellent example of how small Pacific nations can lead the way on renewable energy development,” said McCully.

Building on the success of clean and affordable energy solutions for Tokelau, Tonga, and the Cook Islands, New Zealand will co-host a Pacific energy summit in March 2013.

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Edited by Allison Boccamazzo


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