While photovoltaic generated electricity remains politically controversial in some parts of the world, for Tokelau, it will provide a cost-effective and environmentally sound solution for the entire territory in the coming months.
Tokelau comprises three atolls in the South Pacific. Photovoltaic arrays have currently been installed on one island, and the installation of another two systems are scheduled to be complete by this October. Overall, 4,032 modules, 392 inverters and 1,344 batteries will provide electricity supply for the island. The first system on the atoll Fakaofo will be switched on in two weeks.
New Zealand solar company, Powersmart is supplying and installing the project. Due to the island locations of the installations, they will have to be able to withstand cyclone force winds up to 230 km/h.
Previously Tokelau relied entirely on expensive diesel to provide electricity between 15 and 18 hours a day. The territory has a population of 1,500 people across a combined land area of 10 square kilometers. Around 200 liters of fuel were previously burned for electricity daily. This required around 2,000 barrels to be shipped from New Zealand at a cost of NZD1 million (US$810,000) a year.
Powersmart director, Mike Bassett-Smith said the solution on Tokelau can be an example across the South Pacific. "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 company claims the project is the largest off-grid solar power project in the world and the largest solar system in the South Pacific. Coconut-oil fired generators will provide backup capacity for cloudy days.
The Tokelau project has come at a cost of NZD7.5 million (US$6.11 million) and was funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Even at todays diesel prices, the array will have paid for itself in less than a decade.
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."
After testing is complete on Fakaofo, work will commence on the remaining atolls of Atafu and Nukunon.