Want to see world’s first solar powered country? Visit Tokelau

By Regina Timothy:

Tokelau may not yet be a fully self-governing country, the majority of its 2.8 million dollar budget is paid for in aid from New Zealand and its citizens still are technically citizens of New Zealand, but it may well become the world’s first nation to get all of its electricity from solar power thanks to help from Powersmart Solar and the New Zealand government.

The remote South Pacific nation comprising of three atolls, to which goods and passengers can only travel by boat, aim to ditch its diesel dependency and transform itself into the world’s first solar-powered country.

Already, solar energy powers a few houses and buildings on the three atolls of Tokelau but most of the island nation still relies on fossil fuel, with each atoll needing up to 200 liters a day. All this is set to change by end of 2012 when the nation expects to switch off its generators and rely almost entirely on renewable energy. Using 4,032 solar panels and 1,344 batteries, the island nation will generate 150% of its own current electricity demand.  The first of the atolls to get solar panels is about halfway completed, with the remaining panels expected to be installed by September.

The roughly nine million New Zealand dollars (around $7.3 million US) needed to plan and build the installations was taken out in loans from the New Zealand government and contributed by the U.N. Development Programme.

“We would expect this system to repay itself in five years, and have a 20-year project life before it needs any sort of significant maintenance,” the director of Powersmart, the company that built the arrays, told 3 News in New Zealand.

The three solar arrays will generate about a megawatt in total, and batteries will keep the lights on at times when Tokelau’s 1,711 residents previously could not afford to run generators. When the installations are switched on in September, fossil fuels will only be necessary for the three cars maintained by the country. This will be a far cry from the nearly 2,000 barrels of fuel consumed each year by the country.

Other countries and territories in the area, motivated by high fuel costs, plentiful sun, and relatively small populations, are also working on going all-renewable. Tuvalu, Samoa, and the Cook Islands may soon be the second, third, and fourth countries to rely almost entirely on solar power.

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