It has taken a few years of planning, but finally Rarotonga has its first solar plant up and running! The new plant, named Te Mana o Te Ra, was officially opened on Monday by our Prime Minister Henry Puna. The plant was a joint approach with New Zealand energy company Infratec, New Zealands Pacific aid programme and the Cook Islands government, costing around US$2. 6 million.
It is estimated that the 3,000 solar panels installed next to Rarotongas airport will provide five percent of our Islands total energy needs, reducing our diesel usage by 400,000 litres a year.
The panels were installed with the help of locally trained technicians, who will also help maintain the plant that will be owned and operated by the Cook Islands electricity company Te Aponga UiraThe panels are built to withstand tropical cyclones, high temperatures and salt corrosion.
Rarotonga aims to produce 50% cent of its electricity from renewable sources by next year, with a long-term aim to have the island using 100% renewable energy by 2020.
This is not a first for the Pacific, the island nation of Tokelau became 100% solar powered in 2012. PowerSmart installed a solar electricity system on all three Tokelau atolls, helping them meet 100% of their climate change obligations. It is estimated that their new solar system will save 12,000 tonnes of CO2 over the life of the plant. The project won PowerSmart the Clean-tech and Sustainability section of the NZ Innovators Awards with a maximum score in every category they were judged on.
Tonga, Tuvalu and Samoa are also installing similar solar powered systems.