Island in the sun

DAVID SLACK
Last updated 05:00 01/02/2013

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The South Pacific is lit by drums of diesel. In the Tokelau Islands alone, 2000 drums of diesel have been landing each year to fuel the generators. All across the islands of the Pacific it's the same. Getting your power from drums of diesel is costly, it's erratic and it's a significant contributor to CO2 emissions.

For the Tokelaus, that's just changed. PowerSmart - the Mt Maunganui company dedicated to bringing the world a solar powered future - has just completed the Tokelau Renewable Energy Project. 

It makes the atolls of Tokelau the first 100% solar powered nation on earth. They will no longer need fossil fuel to generate their electricity and will no longer be captive to the mercies of rising prices. It will be one of the largest off grid solar power systems in the world.

Those diesel generators were burning through 2000 barrels a year at an annual cost of $1 million and the population of 1400 can count on only 15 to 18 hours of electricity each day.

They now have a complete solar power system, bringing consistent, high quality electricity at an affordable cost. 

Local labour was used for the construction on each atoll and Tokelauans have been learning new skills specific to the building, maintenance and operation of a solar power scheme. The project involved the installation of 4032 photovoltaic panels, 392 inverters and 1344 batteries across the three atolls.

How big is this potential Pacific Island opportunity? "Shockingly huge," says PowerSmart's Mike Basset-Smith. Conversion to solar power, he says, stands to do enormous social and environmental good for Pacific communities.

Any Pacific community able to to convert to solar power and eliminate its diesel dependence can improve environmental and social wellbeing. Lower electricity costs and stable prices are good for any community.

The community theme is apparent in all of PowerSmart's work: recognising the social and economic cost of unemployment in New Zealand, they seek to employ more New Zealanders and source more components from local suppliers.

The Tokelau project is the company's largest to date, but PowerSmart has bigger and bolder projects in its sights.

The project has provided a foundation for investment in its New Zealand and Australian business this year and has enabled PowerSmart to leverage the project to improve its business in other markets, including new operations in central America where solar power systems have a likely role in the development of electricity systems.

PowerSmart is also a panel member and installer for the Australian Capital Territory Solar Power Schools program, which aims to have solar power systems installed on all primary and secondary schools in the territory.

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Tokelau was a real win for PowerSmart, beating out tenders from companies across the globe, and prospects for more such wins look strong. Basset-Smith speaks with passion about the project and the possibilities that lie ahead. "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."

- Unlimited

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