Tokelau, a small island nation, is officially becoming the first habited place on Earth to completely rely upon solar for its energy needs. Tokelau is a tiny group of coral islands that have up to now used diesel fuel for the daily needs of its roughly 1,400 residents. Within the next few weeks, the nation will make the historic switch to solar.
Currently the diesel fuel used by Tokelau's three islands — Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo — is shipped in barrels in a dangerous sea-crossing from the New Zealand mainland. It's both costly and unsafe for the environment.
The remote, small islands are perfect for testing a virtually complete conversion to solar. They are small (just under four square miles), relatively sparsely populated islands with plenty of sunlight. Their total current diesel consumption is around 52 gallons daily.
billion million dollar project is being funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In fact, most of Tokelau's budget is paid for in aid from the New Zealand government, and the residents are considers New Zealand citizens. The annual revenue for the islands is only $500,000, but diesel power is estimated to cost the nation around $1 million (in New Zealand's currency) per year.
That's a significant expenditure that in addition to the environmental impact spurred the concept of the project by New Zealand-based Powersmart Solar.
After studying the needs of the Tokelau community, the company decided the islands require just over 4,000 solar panels, 392 solar inverters and 1,344 batteries to keep the power running day and night. The other requirement was the grid needed to withstand the occasional tropical typhoons that can see winds of up to 150 mph.
The residents of Tokelau are welcoming the change to solar. In addition to the unpredictable nature of the previous diesel system, they are extremely concerned with preserving their island habitat. They recognized the dangers of importing oil could adversely affect both the marine and terrestrial environment in the event of a spill.
Protecting their resources is of the highest priority for a community that has precious little to begin with. The new system is expected to provide 100% of the islands' power needs, with only non-solar items left are reported to be the three cars the islanders share.
The experiment is being closely watched as the development of the infrastructure and management of the project could be a model for other remote or developing areas of the world.
CORRECTION: This article originally stated the cost of the solar development as $6.1 billion (in U.S. dollars). It should be reported in millions, and we regret the error.