Tonga breaks ground on its first off-grid solar array

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Tonga’s most remote island, Niuatoputapu, is all set for the development of a new solar mini grid. The King of Tonga, Tupou VI, led a groundbreaking ceremony for the solar PV array which will connect to 210 homes.

“The Government of Tonga is pleased to help deliver the country’s first off-grid solar plant to 740 people in Niuatoputapu and soon they will enjoy the benefits of reliable, efficient solar-generated electricity,” said Mr. Poasi Mataele Tei, Tonga’s minister of meteorology, energy, information, disaster management, climate change, and communications in his speech at the event.

The Asian Development Bank (ADP) is developing the installation under the framework of the Outer Islands Renewable Energy Project, which is being financed by the Government of Australia, the Government of Tonga, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, and the Second Danish Cooperation Fund for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency for Rural Areas. The overall project comprises nine individual solar PV plants that will have a cumulative capacity of 1.25 MW to be built on Tonga’s remote islands. Some will feature additional storage systems, to power households, public facilities, and medical facilities.

Once operational, the solar plant will sell its electricity to Tonga’s power utility, Tonga Power Limited (TLP), through a subsidized tariff, which is assessed by the ADB for each project. The island’s citizens purchase the electricity through prepaid metering. Tonga’s first off-grid solar plant follows the completion of on-grid solar plants and network upgrades on the islands of Ha’apai and ‘Eua.

Another aspect of the project is vocational training, which will be provided by TLP. The transfer of knowledge to the beneficiary community will occur for five years after commissioning of the off-grid plant. Through the training, ADB and TLP hope to reduce O&M burdens as the island’s villagers will be capable of repairing system challenges themselves, along with new skillsets.

The ADB has reported that the cumulative lending, grant and technical assistance commitments provided to Tonga since the beginning of 2019 amount to $214 million. Of this, the most significant sector to receive funds is within the energy sector, which has received $54 million for 20 projects.

In March, the ADB earmarked $100 million for the Pacific Renewable Energy Program, to support Tonga, and another 13 other island nations in the Pacific. The Outer Islands Renewable Energy Project has received $25 million of this funding.