4 Apr 2013

NZ firms eye Pacific investment opportunities

7:45 am on 4 April 2013

New Zealand companies are eyeing the Pacific for investment opportunities and major energy projects as international aid donors pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the region.

Last week at the Pacific Energy Summit in Auckland a total of $635 million in funding was announced for energy projects across the Pacific over the next three years.

Two leading New Zealand companies in the region say there are opportunities and risks to being part of the Pacific's ambitious renewable energy plan.

Tauranga-based Power Smart was the lead contractor on a world first project making Tokelau 100% solar powered.

Some 4000 solar panels, 400 inverters and 1400 batteries virtually eliminate their dependence on unreliable diesel power that costs $1 million a year.

Power Smart managing director Mike Bassett-Smith says the project came in on time and on budget.

He says the company had about six months to plan for the project and it built a small portion of the system and ran the company's Mount Maunganui office on it for about four months before it shipped any gear out.

The $7.5 million project funded by New Zealand Aid comprises individual solar power systems installed on each of Tokelau's three atolls.

Mr Bassett-Smith said getting the equipment to a country 30 hours by boat from Samoa was the biggest challenge.

Nelson's SolarCity has teamed up with Panasonic and global technology firm ABB to build large scale projects in the Cook Islands and Nauru.

SolarCity chief executive Andrew Booth said his company has taken a group approach to tackle complex financing arrangements, and out of date infrastructure.

He said the project on Nauru was funded by the Japanese government which allocated $66 million for desalination plants and solar power plants.

Mr Booth's firm is now working on installing a solar scheme in Fiji where the high cost of power is threatening the tourism industry.

But he said one of the risks of doing business in the Pacific is the lack of skilled labour.

Mr Booth said there are cases in the Pacific where aid money has been used to install systems which have been abandoned because they haven't managed to transfer the skills of how to run that technology in the longer term.

"In the Pacific in particular if you're not able to exchange the technology and the skills simultaneously I think you'll end up with a bunch of technology which really doesn't deliver the savings that's going to be so vital to the economies in that region going forward."

Mr Booth says companies have to go into the Pacific with an open heart and build long term relationships with the communities, rather than simply seeing the projects as money making opportunities.