Mar 24, 2017 Last Updated 12:15 AM, Mar 15, 2017

Renewable, clean energy for islands

Unlike most of the island of Efate in Vanuatu, Takara is flat, sparsely vegetated and frankly boring to the eye. About 50-minutes north east from the capital, Port Vila, it was an airstrip for the US military during World War 2, but today it has nothing special to commend it to anybody - until you spot a sign announcing that Takara has hot springs. That clearly hints at thermal activity underground in the area and it now appears highly likely that Takara will become the site for Vanuatu’s first geothermal project.

It is being developed by Geodynamics, an Australian listed company and Geoff Ward, their CEO and managing director, hopes that exploratory drilling will take place at Takara by mid-2015. Mr Ward explained that geothermal electricity is produced from steam using hot water that is trapped underground. “Holes are drilled one to two kilometres deep to reach the hot water reservoir and bring it to the surface,” he said. “This powerful resource is then used to turn a turbine that produces electricity. The hot water is later returned to the reservoir deep underground.”

He said the use of geothermal steam for electricity production began in the early 20th century, with the first experimental installation built in Larderello, Italy, in 1904. “As of 2011, about 11 gigawatts (GW) of geothermal power capacity has been built around the world, most of it in the last three decades,” he said. “However, electricity generated from geothermal sources still only represents 0.3 per cent of the world’s total power generation.”

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SPC helps countries benefit from energy data

Do you know what percentage of the population in your country has access to electricity? Do you know how dependent your country is on fuel imports? Do you know what the energy consumption level is in your country? Do you know what the carbon footprint of your country is? The energy team at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) has answers to these and many other questions relating to energy and development in the Pacific.

SPC has a mandate to review and strengthen the national capacity of Pacific Islands countries and territories (PICTs) in gathering, collation, management, dissemination and analysis of energy data to better inform national and regional energy planning and policy choices. With valuable expertise in a wide range of sectors and a broad membership in the region, SPC is uniquely placed to do this. The statistics, data and information available from SPC are nothing short of a goldmine for policy-makers who rely on high-quality data and statistics to formulate effective energy policies/ plans and aid delivery. Building on its strength in this area, SPC played a key role at the Pacific Energy Summit (held in New Zealand in March 2013), where SPC Director-General, Dr Jimmie Rodgers was moderator for two sessions and a panelist for a third.

SPC’s message to the delegates was clear—a comprehensive analysis of energy supply and demand dynamics is crucial for improving understanding of the sector and for attracting more investment in clean, affordable and reliable energy services. Dr Rodgers presented to the meeting some facts relevant to energy policy that SPC has brought to light through its broad multi-sectoral approach.

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100% electricity from the sun

On 29 October, 2012, Tokelau became the first country in the world to be producing one hundred percent of its electricity from a renewable source—the sun. Tokelau’s three diesel-driven power stations now stand unused and peacefully silent across the three atolls of this Pacific island territory. SPREP commends the government and people of Tokelau for seeing through their long held vision for energy self-reliance, while, at the same time, doing their part as citizens of the global community in reducing the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Tokelau stands a beacon to the rest of the world in how to reduce a country’s carbon footprint. Commitments of this nature define the approach of developing “Pacific solutions to Pacific problems” as we strive to address the impacts of climate change on our island nations. Tokelau is a New Zealand administered territory, comprising three small atolls, situated some 600 kilometres northwest of Samoa. These three atolls are home to just over 1,400 Tokelauans.

The atolls are Fakaofo, the closest to Samoa; Nukunonu; and Atafu, the furthest atoll, situated northwest of the group. Prior to the advent of the Tokelau Renewable Energy Project (TREP), the inhabitants of these three atolls used fossil fuel (diesel) power generators for their electricity needs. A typical Tokelauan home consumes between 5 and 14 kilowatt-hour (kWh) per day, accounting for an average demand for the country of 150 kilowatts per day. Based on this approximation, Tokelau emitted 1,695 kilogrammes of carbon dioxide per day when using diesel fuel for electricity generation. This translates to 620.5 metric tonnes of greenhouse gases emitted by Tokelau in one year for power generation.

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Sustainable energy for all

But 7m islanders still without power

The United Nations General Assembly declared 2012 as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All), recognising that access to modern, affordable energy services in developing countries is essential for sustainable development. The Pacific has much work to do to achieve this goal. Seven million of the region’s 10 million people still do not have electricity. While more than 90% of households in small islands states and more than 80% in Polynesia have access to electricity, it is still below 30% in some of the larger and more populated Melanesian countries.

Moreover, the region continues to rely heavily on fossil fuel which supplies about 95% of its commercial energy needs. Not surprisingly, given the region’s geography, the cost of electricity is among the highest in the world. In addition, total energy losses in some power utilities are as high as 25% and renewable energy opportunities and potential efficiency gains in the transport sector remain generally under-utilised.

For these reasons, at the 2011 Pacific Islands Forum meeting, Pacific leaders reaffirmed their commitment to renewable energy and the promotion of energy efficiency. They agreed on the value of energy audits and of developing credible whole-of-sector plans such as ‘energy roadmaps’ and structures to improve energy security, reduce dependency on fossil fuel for electricity generation and improve access to electricity.

Leaders also emphasised the importance of effective management of fuel supply risks and meeting energy efficiency targets. The work at the regional level is guided by the Framework for Action on Energy Security in the Pacific, which was endorsed by Pacific Energy Ministers in April 2011. The framework outlines a new approach to improving energy security in the Pacific region.

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How should the Pacific respond?

Climate change is re-writing the way Pacific Islands communities live their life. Climate change is re-writing the way Pacific Islands communities live their life. A changing climate provides a mist of uncertainty as to what the future holds for our communities. Impacts of climate change will continue to be a challenge to Pacific Islands countries and territories over the years ahead. The increasing population of Pacific Islands countries, which has reached the 10 million mark and is expected to increase by around 180,000 every year, will further complicate these challenges. But how should the Pacific respond? In an attempt to adapt to these challenges, Pacific countries and territories working with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and partners such as the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and the United Nations Development Programme are strengthening their capacity to respond to climate change.

The development of renewable energy is a key element of these responses. The Pacific Islands Greenhouse Gas Abatement through Renewable Energy Project (PIGGAREP) is a UNDP and Global Environment Facility funded project, implemented by UNDP Samoa and executed by SPREP’s Climate Change Division. The project’s goal is to reduce the growth of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use in the Pacific through adopting and implementing renewable energy technologies. The project supports low-carbon development schemes in the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, through support for renewable energy strategies and for the development of related project proposals. A key focus is on addressing barriers to the adoption of renewable energy programmes. Energy efficiency, while not included within the scope of the PIGGAREP Project, is nonetheless an important area which demands more attention in the Pacific.

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