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World-first solar power project lights up Tokelau

World-first solar power project lights up Tokelau

The energy crisis in Tokelau is over. This week the island was freed of its dependency on fossil fuels as Mount Maunganui company PowerSmart completed a world-first solar renewable energy project, officially making Tokelau 100 percent solar powered.

The $7.5 million project is considered one of the world's largest off-grid solar power systems, for which PowerSmart performed detailed design work, procurement, sample system building, testing, proprietary software development and planning over the first half of 2012.

One of PowerSmart’s senior project managers was sent to Tokelau in February to oversee the construction of the power system buildings and solar array foundations, as well as provide onsite planning capabilities. Says managing director Mike Basset-Smith: “Our company has world class project management capabilities and methodologies, and this is why things have gone so smoothly.”

Bassett-Smith says getting the tender for the Tokelau project ahead of companies from all over the world was a "big win" for the five-year old business.

The original tender specification for the Tokelau Renewable Energy Project called for the solar power systems to supply 90 percent of Tokelau’s annual electricity demand.  But Powersmart blew that out of the water through creative design, project management methodology, and significant research and development, delivering solar power systems capable of producing 150 percent of current annual electricity demand.  This will allow the Tokelauans to expand their electricity use within the capability of the solar power system and without increasing diesel use.

The isolation of Tokelau and scale of the project required significant testing and development to be conducted at PowerSmart’s head office in Mount Maunganui before they moved equipment to the atolls on Tokelau and started construction. 

The system and components were designed to be suitable for the atoll environment and to withstand cyclonic conditions. PowerSmart persevered in creating a monitoring system that will now enable them to monitor remotely how well the system is performing, including a touch screen interface to monitor and control the system on the atolls.

This month the PowerSmart project picked up the Cleantech and Sustainability award at the NZ Innovators Awards. Now it's preparing to move on to other projects. 

Many Pacific nations and communities are currently grappling with electricity produced by diesel generators at very high diesel costs and significant expected inflation. 

"The integration of solar power systems into diesel dominated utilities will have profound positive effects on the economic, social, and environmental welfare of their users,” says Bassett-Smith.

 PowerSmart was recently announced as a finalist in the Sustainable 60 Awards and Sustainable Business Network Awards. Earlier this year the company was named Emerging Exporter of the Year at the BNZ Bay of Plenty Export NZ Awards and ranked 14th in the New Zealand Herald's Green 50 list of top Kiwi companies helping the environment.

Jamie Joseph is a writer and a poet and can be found blogging at riseandflow.net