17 Sep 2012

Solar power gives Tonga schools affordable computer access

10:43 pm on 17 September 2012

A Tongan school says it can now afford to use computers following the installation of solar panels by Canterbury University engineering students.

Under a $350,000 renewable energy project, funded by New Zealand Aid, five Tongan high schools have had panels installed.

Takuilau High School, about 20km from the capital Nuku'alofa, was the first to get the solar panels and has saved $NZ400 on power in the first month.

School principal Sister Fe'ao Kautai says that's more money for stationery, text books and school maintenance, but the biggest benefit is the school can now get reliable use of its computers

"When the electricity runs out we stop using the computer, but when the solar panel is connected it makes a big difference, in reading emails and finding resources for our students."

Tonga relies on imported diesel to generate its electricity, which costs up to five times what consumers pay in New Zealand.

Professor Pat Bodger, who oversaw the project, says the panels should save the five schools about $NZ5000 a year each in power costs.

The solar power systems are owned and maintained by state company Tonga Power Ltd, which pays the schools a rental for the panels on their roofs and for the power they feed into the national grid.

The project has been led by the EcoCARE Pacific Trust, whose co-founder Russell Taylor says the next step is to link the five schools with a wireless intranet.

Mr Taylor says the goal is to install solar panels on all 36 Tongan schools on 21 different islands.