Fiji to build Pacific-Island PV capacity

Some members of the South Pacific Island community, such as the Solomon Islands and Samoa, rely heavily or even entirely on diesel-generated electricity and therefore face high and increasing electricity prices. While Fiji is not in exactly the same situation, because of its hydroelectric resources, the University of the South Pacific, located there, has installed the photovoltaic system as a training and capacity-building program.

The South Korean Government funded the 45-kilowatt-peak (kW) project and it will provide ten percent of the campus’ electricity requirements. BP Solar 190-watt modules and SMA Inverters were used in the installation.

The university is currently running Undergraduate and Post-Graduate courses relating to photovoltaics, which are available throughout the region via distance education. It is also working with a new organization, the Sustainable Energy Association of the Pacific Islands, to carry out task analysis and develop competency standards and certifications for tradesmen and engineers to carry out photovoltaic system installations and maintenance.

Head of the School of Engineering and Physics, Atul Raturi, told pv magazine that even with the high electricity costs in some Pacific Island countries, off-grid applications present the major opportunities for photovoltaics in the region. Although total electrical generating capacity amongst the islands, of all kinds, remains very small in the South Pacific, this could change as photovoltaics provide off-grid electricity to many communities.

Ratui said that around 80 percent of the people of the Pacific Island’s do not have access to grid electricity and therefore photovoltaics have a huge potential, "especially in the larger countries, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea."

"This is all happening now. At the moment the photovoltaic costs are on the high side and the capacity issue [stemming from a lack of the required skills] is a major issue. So this is what we’re focusing on at the moment, the costs come down but maintenance and looking after the sites are very, very important. And at the University of the South Pacific, we are working on that."

Some off-grid locations in Fiji have previously seen NGO and charity groups install photovoltaic systems but there is no process for their maintenance and, as such, many kilowatts of installations have fallen into disrepair.