Cook Islands eases off diesel energy thanks to South Canterbury company

A solar farm at Rarotonga Airport built by Infratec. Electricity tariffs are much higher in the Cook Islands than New ...
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A solar farm at Rarotonga Airport built by Infratec. Electricity tariffs are much higher in the Cook Islands than New Zealand.

A new $3.9m project led by a South Canterbury company aims to have 95 per cent of the Cook Islands running on renewable energy by the end of year.

Infratec general manager Luke van Zeller said the project was the latest in a series of upgrades to overhaul the country's dated power grids which relied on fossil fuels.

"The cost of getting diesel to these countries is really expensive, so they have electricity tariffs significantly higher than New Zealand," van Zeller said.

Infratec general manager Luke van Zeller said the company was helping update the Cook Islands energy infrastructurre.
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Infratec general manager Luke van Zeller said the company was helping update the Cook Islands energy infrastructurre.

Alpine Energy's subsidiary Infratec announced on Wednesday it will expand the Cook Islands renewable energy infrastructure systems with upgrades to two of the islands aging medium and low voltage networks.

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Infratec is the subsidiary of South Canterbury owned Alpine Energy's service company, NETcon.

Van Zeller said upgrades to the country's voltage networks were the latest in a series of projects to update the energy infrastructure of the Islands.

The company's first $7.8m project, which combined solar PV and battery storage, would provide the nation's residents with cheaper electricity and a more reliable power supply.

Once both projects were completed, expected to be at the end of 2017, 95 per cent of the four islands would be running on renewable energy, he said.

"About 95 per cent of grid electricity supplying each island will be generated by solar panels. Any excess power created when demand is low will be stored in batteries for later use."

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The "mini grids" were now being installed on the Southern islands of Atiu, Mangaia, Mauke and Mitiaro.

Previously, the Cook Islands relied solely on diesel generators to provide power for the country.

Once the two projects were completed diesel consumption would be reduced by 360,000 litres annually, van Zeeler said.

The development of the new project would expand on the first project, upgrade the old networks and ensure the ageing voltage networks could keep up with the first project's systems

When the first project was announced it was welcomed by the Cook Islands Government.

"The Government is extremely pleased to partner with NETcon to progress on its policy objective of transforming the electricity needs of the country towards 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020 and the signing of this contract is a significant milestone in this journey," Office of the Prime Minister for the Cook Islands chief of staff Elizabeth Wright-Koteka said.

"They need to be upgraded to accommodate the new infrastructure we are installing. They are also aging."

In August, Infratec confirmed it had signed a $7.8m contract with Asian Development Bank (ADB) to supply solar-battery electricity systems to the Cook Islands.

The company has installed renewable energy systems across the globe, providing energy solutions to rural towns in Afghanistan who previously had no power, and sustainable and renewable systems to Tuvalu and Rarotonga.

A similar model of work would be used as the company employed in Afghanistan, he said.

New Zealand project and management staff came over and facilitated work from locally sourced talent.

"We have New Zealand technical stuff that go over to project manage, design and support. But also we increase local employment as much as possible to deliver our projects."

Work with local island communities was crucial to the success of Infratec projects, van Zeller said.

"Up to 10 workers per island are getting regular work."

In September, Infratec won the Champion Global Operator small enterprise category in the Champion Canterbury Business Award.

 - Stuff

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