Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Pacific islands drop diesel for 100 percent solar power

5 Nov 2012

The island nation of Tokelau switched on the third and final installment of its new solar power grid last week, earning praise around the world as the first country to become entirely solar-powered--except it's not a country. Made up of three tiny tropical atolls-a few specks in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean-Tokelau is a dependent territory of New Zealand, whose government's international aid and development programme advanced the $7 million to fund the project, aimed at replacing Tokelau's diesel-powered energy grid.

"Electricity expenses make up a huge portion of their budget in Tokelau, which makes it hard for them to invest and look toward the future, so there's a very clear financial argument for this system", said Michael Bassett-Smith, managing director of Powersmart Solar, New Zealand's largest solar power company, which directed the project. Now, as a result of the project, "not only does the New Zealand aid programme save money from not having to import diesel, but Tokelau has a very clear sense of the price of their energy".

Though its economy runs almost entirely on the sale of fishing licenses and Internet domain names and the atolls boast "at most" five motor vehicles, Tokelau still imported over 2,000 barrels of diesel per year at a cost of $1 million New Zealand dollars ($825,000) to provide electricity to its approximately 1,400 people. According to Mika Perez, Tokelau's director of economic development, natural resources and the environment, the jump to solar power is both a cost-saving measure and a commitment to environmental sustainability on the frontier of climate change.

"The industrial nations are contributing to climate change through emissions of fossil fuels into the atmosphere, affecting Tokelau, indirectly, quite a bit", said Perez. Now, "Tokelau will take the lead in harnessing the sun to provide renewable energy, and other countries will look at us and know that we are doing something about it, and they should do their part".

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