NZ company helps Tokelau switch to solar

By Ben Chapman-Smith

Powersmart Solar has worked with locals in Tokelau to help the Pacific Nation switch to 100 per cent solar powered energy. Photo / Supplied
Powersmart Solar has worked with locals in Tokelau to help the Pacific Nation switch to 100 per cent solar powered energy. Photo / Supplied

A New Zealand solar company is about to take a major step towards helping a diesel-dependant South Pacific nation become completely solar-powered.

Mount Maunganui-based Powersmart Solar is the lead contractor in a renewable energy project to see Tokelau switch off all its diesel generators.

Each of Tokelau's three atolls will have their own solar system by the end of October, the first of which will be switched on next week on Fakaofo.

The project will allow Tokelau to become the first country to meet 100 per cent of its climate change obligations, while becoming the first wholly solar-powered nation on earth, said Powersmart director Mike Bassett-Smith.

"This system is among the largest off-grid solar power systems in the world and the largest solar system being installed the South Pacific," he said.

"Many Pacific Nations struggle to provide a high proportion of their people access to electricity, and even when they do, access to affordable electricity is a significant additional challenge."

Securing the job was "a huge win" for Powersmart, said Bassett-Smith.

Once work is complete, Tokelau will have replaced its diesel generators with 4032 solar panels, 392 inverters, and 1344 batteries weighing 250kg each.

The new solar power system will be able to survive cyclone force winds of 230 km/h.

Powersmart was recently ranked 14th in The New Zealand Herald's Green 50 list of top Kiwi companies helping the environment.

It won the contract in September 2011 and has six staff members stationed in Tokelau, with locals providing the manpower for construction.

Bassett-Smith said all Pacific Nations have the opportunity to significantly reduce their diesel consumption by integrating solar power into their electricity systems.

Tokelau has a combined land area of 10 km squared and its population of about 1400 currently have access to about 16 hours of electricity each day.

The nation's diesel generators currently burn around 200 litres of fuel daily. About 2000 barrels are shipped in from New Zealand each year at a cost of NZ$1million.

Powersmart's custom-designed solar system will provide 150 per cent of the nation's current electricity demand and the government estimates savings of 12,000 tonnes of CO2 over the life of the solar power plant.

During periods of prolonged cloud cover, generators that run on coconut oil will supply power and simultaneously recharge the battery bank.

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