Now Masdar Brings Solar Power to Tonga

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Masdar expands its solar ambitions to the South Pacific

The tiny kingdom of Tonga in the south pacific has just signed a memorandum of understanding with the Abu Dhabi based company Masdar for a 500 KW solar project to be built on the island of Vava’ in Tonga.

This will add to the 1 MW solar project that broke ground at the end of last year on the main island of Tongatapu, in collaboration with the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to reduce the cost of electricity for the average consumer.

Like many isolated Pacific Islands Tonga’s electricity consumers have long been dependent on diesel generators. As oil prices have risen, so have diesel prices. The result has been catastrophic.

(Related: Barge Sinks In The Nile, Releasing 110 Tonnes Of Diesel Fuel)

“During the oil price spike in 2008, Tonga’s economy screeched to a halt” says Climate Progress. “And since then, with oil prices continuing to rise, many consumers are not able to afford electricity at all.”

In 2000, when the last energy balance table for Tonga was compiled, imported petroleum products accounted for 75 percent of Tonga’s energy supply, with 25 percent coming from biomass and off-grid solar PV. All grid-supplied electricity, which accounts for over 98 percent of electricity used in Tonga, is generated using imported diesel fuel.

As a result of the 2008 shock sensibly, Tonga is trying to build in some peak oil resilience. In the same way that Morocco did, the Kingdom then in 2010 set a renewable energy target of 50% by 2020 in the Tonga Energy Roadmap.

(Related: Could Morocco be First to Get 42% Solar?)

Tonga now has a plan for how it will achieve this ambitious figure. It helps, of course, that, like Morocco, Tonga is a kingdom, which eases the fast adoption of progressive policies (when they are chosen, of course.)

It should be able to achieve the target with relatively little renewable energy. However, the kingdom is scattered over an area of 700,000 square kilometres across 52 inhabited islands in an archipelago of 176 islands, which makes it a little difficult.

So, with the first solar project, Tonga is now generating a little over 4 percent of its power needs. The Masdar project, financed by a grant provided by Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD), will deliver around 13 percent of Tonga’s annual electricity demand.

With a base demand of around 500 kW during the day and a peak power demand reaching 1 MW during the early hours of the evening. The solar plant will deliver more than 50 percent of the base load during the day.

The project is also part of Masdar’s commitment to the UN Secretary General’s Year of Sustainable Energy for All – that was launched from WFES in Abu Dhabi on January 16.

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