Tonga’s First Solar Energy Farm To Begin Operations In August

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Tonga’s First Solar Energy Farm To Begin Operations In August $6.7 million project step toward 50% renewable energy goal

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, May 22, 2012) – Tonga's first Solar Farm, built at a cost of TOP$12 million [US$6.7 million], is expected to be in full operation by August, said John van Brink, the General Manager of the Tonga Power Ltd.

John said that by August the Popua Solar Farm will be able to generate 1,880 megawatt hours of electricity a year, or about 4 percent of Tonga's total electricity demand.

The Tonga government in 2010 launched the Tonga Energy Road Map 2010-20 (TERM) and set a target "that 50 percent of the country's electricity should be provided through renewable sources by 2012, and the overall cost of electricity should be reduced by 50 percent."

The Popua Solar Farm was a significant move by the Tonga government to achieve its target. The TOP$12 million project was funded by the New Zealand government, and the plant was constructed by Meridian Energy, a leading developer of renewable energy in New Zealand. Meridian Energy will oversee the operation of the Solar Farm for three years, before it is taken over by Tonga Power Ltd, a government-owned company.

John believed that the government's target for 50 percent of Tonga's electricity to be provided by renewable sources by 2012 was an aspiration, because under the current rate of development "it is hard to see how the target can be met by the end of 2012. This is why Tonga Power is embarking upon a fast track development approach, covering a number of projects… but needless to say we believe that Tonga Power should be driving the implementation of new technologies in order to reduce our reliance on diesel for fuel. We are excited at the prospects and confident that with this impetus we will meet Government's expectations of 50 percent renewable generation."

John said that they had other plans on the drawing board which would be announced at a later date.

Masdar

Meanwhile, Masdar, an Abu Dhabi multifaceted renewable energy company, owned by the Abu Dhabi government, signed an MOU with the government of Tonga, for Masdar to be in charge of the construction of a 500 kilowatt solar photovoltaic power plant in Vava'u. The solar plant will be able to provide 50 percent of Vava'u base demand of about 500 kilowatts during the day.

Masdar in a statement, said that the MOU was signed for Tonga by Lord Ma'afu, the Minister of Land, Survey, Natural Resources, Energy, Environment and Climate Change, who was in Abu Dhabi for the World Future Energy Summit from January 16-19.

A date for the launch of the Vava'u solar project has not been announced, but Masdar is working in collaboration with the Tonga Energy Road Map Implementation Unit to release an expression of interest to potential companies for the execution of the project.

In addition to these two Solar Farms projects there are also community solar power projects in operation.

Both the Japanese and the German governments have donated solar power water pumps to villages, and the Indian government has taken the process of introducing solar power to villages a step further by enrolling two grandmothers from a swamp community in western Nuku'alofa at Barefoot College, India where they learned how to install solar powered lights in homes in their community. All these efforts contribute to Tonga's strive to reduce its reliance on diesel for fuel.

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