Yesterday saw the inauguration of a solar farm in the Solomon Islands; a joint project of New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates.
The 1 megawatt facility, constructed on the outskirts of Honiara, will generate up to 4 per cent of the island nation’s electricity requirements and save the cash-strapped country close to a million dollars annually on diesel costs.
According to New Zealand’s Pacific economic ambassador, Shane Jones, a significant amount of the cost of the facility was plowed into the local community in the form of jobs and various services.
“Forty or fifty youngsters in Solomon Islands have learnt very valuable building, construction energy related skills. The contractor, the head contractor, out of Fiji and a lot of the services are being provided by local Honiara based businesses,” said Mr. Jones in an interview with Radio NZ.
New Zealand contributed NZD $2 million to the project and the UAE around $4 million.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) the Solomon Islands has considerable solar energy potential as it lies close to the equator. NASA data indicates an average daily insolation value of 5 kWh/m2.
Like many Pacific nations, the Solomon Islands has relied heavily on expensive and polluting diesel generation. According to the Asian Development Bank and based on data from 2009, access to grid connected electricity in the Solomon Islands was estimated at just 3% and 79% of households used kerosene lamps as their main source of lighting
Aside from the financial savings, the solar power system also represents a blow in the battle against climate change. Sea level rise associated with global warming is already having a dramatic effect in the region.
A recent study of aerial and satellite imagery from 1947 to 2014 of 33 islands has identified five vegetated reef islands in the Solomon archipelago that have entirely vanished due to rising sea levels and wave action.
Another six islands are experiencing severe shoreline recession and a couple of villages have required relocation.
Much of the Solomon Island’s population lives in low-lying areas and the rate of sea-level rise in the region over the past twenty years are amongst the highest globally.
The Solomon Islands are situated around 1,800 kilometres north-east of Townsville.