2 Jul 2013

Tokelau prepares for new phase in renewable energy path

5:59 pm on 2 July 2013

Tokelau is preparing to move into the second phase of its 100 percent renewable energy project.

Last year, five years after plans were made by the Ongoing Government, Tokelau became the first country in the world to source all its electricity from solar power.

The energy minister, Faipule Foua Toloa, told Don Wiseman that while the scheme is going well there are issues with long-term maintenance.

FAIPULE FOUA TOLOA: The celebration of the success of Tokelau's renewable energy, it comes with a lot of responsibilities. While we have no more diesel on-island, we're moving into the second phase.

DON WISEMAN: You must have diesel, still, has a back-up, though?

FFT: Yes, we have diesel as a back-up. But the diesel will be completely replaced when we kick into the send phase of the project, which I hope begins this year.

DW: The second phase is?

FFT: The coconut oil replacing the diesel and also the replacement of the whiteware - inefficient appliances. And then looking into actually replacing fuel also with coconut diesel for outboard motors. This is one of the areas that we'll be looking at.

DW: Have you done tests with that at this point?

FFT: Not at this point. We already put together a blueprint of how we're going to move forward. The equipment has been sourced from places. And experience we're gaining during the past five years in where we should be sourcing those things. The appointment of our new Director of Energy has been done the last two weeks. So when he comes in, he will actually try and move those things. But going back to the point you make, in terms of the sustainability of the solar energy, it comes with a lot of responsibility. And I believe people were saying in the beginning, 'When we have the solar everybody doesn't have to pay a bill'. I don't really think that is the true reflection. The electricity bill has been heavily subsidised by the government. And actually we are coming up with a formula so we can put some money away in the next 10 years that we can actually draw on those resources to replace and manage and maintain the current system. Because the first thing we'll be worried about will be the batteries. The battery life, if you maintain it, the maximum will be 10 years. After 10 years there will be a possibility that you need to replace those. So the sustainable aspect of those will be very important. Upgrading all the skills and the capacity of our engineers and everything to actually manage the system, also. But we have a problem, one big problem in the solar system in Tokelau. It's bird shit. (Laughs) I don't know why, but that is actually a daily duty now - to clean all the bird shit on top of the panels. Probably they love reflecting their shadows on top of those panels. It's not really a big, big problem. But it's one of the things because the bird shit actually can affect the efficiency of the sun transforming to energy.

DW: But otherwise it's going well?

FFT: It's going really, really well. It's going really well. There is also the scoping of looking at the wind supplement, just looking into the possibility of wind energy. So we'll have a look at that