The elec­tric­ity used on the Pa­cific is­land of Toke­lau is now, of­fi­cially, sup­plied solely by the sun.

Element - - CONTENTS - By Jamie Joseph

On the 29th of Oc­to­ber this year, Mount Maun­ganui based com­pany Pow­erS­mart com­pleted a world first re­new­able en­ergy project, of­fi­cially mak­ing the is­land of Toke­lau 100% so­lar pow­ered.

The $7.5 mil­lion project is con­sid­ered one of the world’s largest off-grid so­lar power sys­tems.

The com­pany has since been awarded a project on the is­land of Kiri­bati, north east of Toke­lau. They will be per­form­ing an in­stal­la­tion on Abe­mama for a lo­cal school, com­menc­ing March 2012. It is ex­actly the same as the Toke­lau sys­tem, just on a much smaller scale.

The Toke­lau project is an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of how small Pa­cific na­tions can lead the way on re­new­able en­ergy devel­op­ment. Each of Toke­lau’s three atolls now has their own so­lar elec­tric­ity sys­tem which will sup­ply enough elec­tric­ity to ex­ceed cur­rent re­quire­ments, free the com­mu­ni­ties of their de­pen­dence on in­creas­ingly ex­pen­sive diesel gen­er­a­tion, and al­low Toke­lau to meet 100% of their cli­mate change obli­ga­tions.

Says Keli Kalolo, Faip­ule o Atafu and Ulu of Toke­lau: “We will be sav­ing a lot of money from so­lar power so that we can dis­trib­ute those funds to other pri­or­i­ties: ed­u­ca­tion, health and trans­port. And now we are free­ing up peo­ple to take part in other projects, such as con­struc­tion of schools and hos­pi­tals, in­stead of peo­ple hav­ing to man the power sta­tions (gen­er­a­tors).”

The orig­i­nal ten­der spec­i­fi­ca­tion for the Toke­lau Re­new­able En­ergy Project called for the so­lar power sys­tems to sup­ply 90% of Toke­lau’s an­nual elec­tric­ity de­mand. Through cre­ative de­sign, project man­age­ment method­ol­ogy, and sig­nif­i­cant re­search and devel­op­ment, Pow­erS­mart was able to pro­vide so­lar power sys­tems ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing 150% of cur­rent an­nual elec­tric­ity de­mand. This de­sign will al­low the Toke­lauans to ex­pand their elec­tric­ity use within the ca­pa­bil­ity of the so­lar power sys­tem and with­out in­creas­ing diesel use.

In Oc­to­ber the project won Pow­erS­mart the Clean­tech and Sus­tain­abil­ity sec­tion of the NZ In­no­va­tors Awards. The judge had this to say:

“I have never passed a max­i­mum score in ev­ery cat­e­gory in two years as an awards eval­u­a­tor. To me your project in Toke­lau ticks ev­ery box. You have blended work­ing in a re­mote lo­ca­tion, ex­cel­lence in de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing, eco­nomic ra­tio­nale with re­duc­ing diesel costs and on­go­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­nomic ben­e­fits. And, not least, train­ing ben­e­fits to the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion. Bril­liant ex­am­ple of a NZ busi­ness ex­port­ing it’s skill to de­liver the so­lu­tion.”

The iso­la­tion of Toke­lau and scale of the project re­quired sig­nif­i­cant test­ing and devel­op­ment to be con­ducted at Pow­erS­mart’s head of­fice in Mount Maun­ganui be­fore they moved equip­ment to the atolls on Toke­lau and started con­struc­tion. The sys­tem and com­po­nents were de­signed to be suit­able for the atoll en­vi­ron­ment and to with­stand cy­clonic con­di­tions. Pow­erS­mart per­se­vered in cre­at­ing a mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem that will now en­able them to mon­i­tor re­motely how well the sys­tem is per­form­ing. This will as­sist them in work­ing with the Toke­lauans to trou­bleshoot and di­ag­nose any is­sues that might arise. The sys­tem pro­vides an in­tu­itive touch screen in­ter­face to mon­i­tor and con­trol the sys­tem on the atolls.

Says Pow­erS­mart man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Mike Bas­set­tSmith, “All across the Pa­cific there are clear is­sues with the cur­rent and ex­pected fu­ture costs of elec­tric­ity gen­er­ated us­ing diesel, not to men­tion the en­vi­ron­men­tal costs and risks of un­load­ing diesel drums on trop­i­cal atolls. 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.” Pow­erS­mart were fi­nal­ists in last Thurs­day’s Sus­tain­able Busi­ness Net­work Awards. Ear­lier this year they were named Emerg­ing Ex­porter of the Year at the BNZ Bay of Plenty Ex­port NZ Awards. They also re­cently ranked 14th in The New Zealand Her­ald’s Green 50 list of top Kiwi com­pa­nies help­ing the en­vi­ron­ment.

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