Islands powered by sun, that is what we are...

Tiny south Pacific country of Tokelau goes off-grid with a 1MW solar system

05 Nov 2012, 00:05

No man is an island, John Donne intoned. One might infer the famously bawdy poet turned Bishop meant self-sustainability is no mean feat - something The Tank can agree with, considering our latest attempt ended up in the eating of the very twigs we'd spent the last six hours trying to light after the sick rabbit we'd managed to trap escaped with our keys. Mrs Tank declared it to be the worst afternoon of her life, but as she's a Sheffield Wednesday fan it's hard to give that any credence.

Anyway, all this meant we were more than impressed that an entire country has become energy self-sufficient! And which pioneering, world-leading nation would have the vision, funds, and sheer chutzpah to carry this off?

Well, the tiny south sea islands of Tokelau, most famous for not actually being a country, but a territory of New Zealand, and sporting a rather impressive record at lawn bowls.

A new 1MW solar array, thought to be one of the world's largest off-grid solar systems, has been installed across the three low-lying atolls that make up Tokelau for the princely sum of $7.5m.

The array replaces costly oil imports and, as it supplies one and a half times the 1,400 inhabitant's energy needs, it allows Tokelau to export excess power. The resulting fuel savings will be used to pay off the cost of the system and increase investment in health and education for the Tokelauns? Tokelauites? Tokelaus?

Fossil fuel imports comprise up to a third of total imports for some nations in the region, so it's no wonder Jovilisi Suveinakama, general manager of the National Public Service of the Government of Tokelau, advised other Pacific islands to follow Tokelau's example.

"Our commitment as global citizens is to make a positive contribution toward the mitigation of the impacts of climate change," he told Inter Press Service. "We are proud of this achievement."

And rightly so. Tokelau sufferers from extreme weather storm surges, droughts, coral-bleaching, inundation of land, and salination of groundwater, all of which is likely to get worse as a result of industrialised nations' carbon emissions.

Yet these very same countries are amongst the first to get on board with low carbon energy strategies, some of which have led by ambitious islands including the Maldives and our very own Isle of Wight embracing plans to become energy independent.

Other governments need to realise that while no man is an island, the planet certainly is - and there's no getting off. At least not until we get around to building that Death Star.

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