The remote islands of Tokelau in the South Pacific have become the world’s first territory to be powered entirely by solar energy.
The island region, located between New Zealand and Hawaii, is composed of three atolls—Atafu, Fakaofo and Nukunonu— that have been relying on diesel fuel for the energy needs of its roughly 1,500 residents. But thanks to government’s funding of a $7 million solar project, the islands are now the first totally energy-independent territory.
“Until now, Tokelau has been 100 percent dependent upon diesel for electricity generation, with heavy economic and environmental costs,” said New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully.
The construction of the solar grids was no easy logistical task. The closest atoll is about 500 kilometers north of Samoa with no airstrips or wharves, and is accessible by a long boat trip from Samoa to just outside the reefs, where a landing barge ferries personnel and equipment to shore.
The completion of the Tokelau Renewable Energy Project means residents will no longer use around 2,000 barrels of diesel per year to produce electricity, saving around NZ$1 million in energy costs.
“For Tokelau, this milestone is of huge importance for their continued well-being,” said project coordinator Mike Bassett-Smith.
“Many Pacific nations struggle to provide a high proportion of their people access to electricity, and even when they do, access to affordable electricity is a significant additional challenge.”
Tokelau’s solar energy project has set a trend in the Pacific to go green, with neighboring islands Samoa and Tuvalu setting renewable energy goals for 2020. The Cook Islands are planning to switch over to solar panels and wind turbines, while most households in the South Pacific will start using solar water heaters.