6 May 2014

Small Pacific nations embrace solar but still face challenges

From , 5:03 am on 6 May 2014

The International Renewable Energy Agency says Pacific islands still face constraints in setting up sustainable projects.

The Director General of the organisation, Adnan Amin, has toured small islands with the New Zealand foreign minister Murray McCully, checking on energy projects.

Mr Amin says small Pacific nations were some of the first to sign up to solar power, but size and logistics mean progress has been slow.

Adnan Amin spoke to Alex Perrottet in Tuvalu.

ADNAN AMIN: Vulnerability to imported fossil fuels is really sapping their economic vitality. It's impinging on their ability to have a sustainable model and clean energy and renewable energy have come to a point of declining costs and increasing knowledge, so it has become a real option for them. So they were very influential in the early days of the formation of the organisation and it was natural that we selected them as one of the first regions for priority work for IRENA.

ALEX PERROTTET: How has it become more efficient and more cost-effective to run, particularly in developing countries?

AA: Tuvalu is a very interesting case, because they started going into solar energy in 1984, they were actually one of the pioneers in the world, which is remarkable to think about. And between '84 and 1994 they installed home solar systems in about 400 homes. So they had experience. The problem was that in the early days the cost of the solar technology was very high. The reliability was unproved, there was no real standardised certification of the equipment, they didn't have the local capacity to be able to maintain it. It worked after a fashion, but now the situation is quite dramatically different. Improvements in technology, both in terms of cost and efficiency, and cost, for example, we've done a costing study, worldwide, on solar pv and we've seen declines of 70 to 75 percent in the last five years in the price of solar technology. So it's come within the reach of many developing countries. What they still lack is the ability to go to scale. Distributed home systems are fine, but what they really need is a solution to generation and power. Solar pv presents that but it comes with a whole host of technical challenges that they still have to address.

AP: It's not just solar of course, there's other options. Is part of your study to see what's going to be better for each country, whether it's hydro or wind, how do you ascertain what's going to be best for each place?

AA: Well we cover all renewable energy sources so, we probably have the most authoritative global resource mapping for renewable energy technical resource potential, and we're looking at it in the Pacific, but it varies from island to island. So for example, we just came from Samoa and you have a lot of biofuel, you have hydro, you have solar, and you have wind. In Tuvalu, solar is reliable, there's been some mapping of wind. We found that the wind on the leeward side of the island is not a very good resource. We recommended that we do some testing, and put up some masts on the windward side of the island. At the moment the wind resource hasn't been proven, but solar is there and as far as biomass is concerned, the coconut plantations are not capable of yielding the kind of feedstock you need for a real programme on bioenergy. If there is a market that grows for bioenergy it may even spur agricultural development and growth of coconut palms.