The vast majority of Pacific nations are reliant on diesel generators for electricity generation. In Tonga, all fossil fuels come to Nukualofa and are then transported to other islands increasing the cost to remote communities. There is enormous benefit to a community in a remote location having a reliable and cheap power source that is local. In these communities the cost of power derived from renewable sources would represent a significant discount on what they currently pay for diesel generated power or from home based generators they fuel themselves.
To trial the implementation of renewable energy in Pacific Island communities, EcoCARE partnered with Engineers Without Borders to create a school based solar generation system that could mitigate their power costs and allow for great use of high drain information-communication technologies. After beginning research and development in 2009, a pilot programme installing systems in five high schools on the main island of Tongatapu. This included a landmark agreement with Tonga Power Limited, the sole provider of electricity throughout the islands, to allow the schools to sell power back to the grid to mitigate their bills and increase access to resources. This project is in the process of being rolled out nationwide, with Rotary NZ providing the funding and management for this larger scale project.
There are about 30,000 islands in the Pacific Ocean, most of which will see no benefit from the large and elaborate wind farms and other power projects that will be established in the main centres. Smaller systems show great potential to be used by smaller communities in remote locations. After some discussions with the Minister of Education in Tonga we have a letter from him requesting that EcoCARE Pacific Trust implement sustainable energy generation technology in Vavau HS under EcoCARE Pacific Trust direction. We have 16 very talented engineering students from civil, mechanical and electrical engineering departments that have volunteered their services to implement sustainable energies into schools in Tonga. I have one group working on a Bio-digester at a school on Tongatapu and I have another group investigating the implementation of; wind turbines, solar photovoltaic and hybrid or hydrogen conversion for Vavau HS in Vavau. The students are mentored and supervised by Prof. Pat Bodger, Dr. Tom Cochrane and myself.
All EcoCARE Pacific Trust projects have three stages; Introduction, Implementation and Dissemination.
They have performed the first part of the project (introduction) which requires that the students visit the communities into which the project will be performed, carry out presentations into the communities and ask permission of the local heads of the churches and communities to carry out the project and to scope out the project.
The second stage requires that the students find the funds for and implement the system. They are required to involve the local communities and students. We hope to carry out this stage in June 2009.
The third stage (Dissemination) is very important for the continued sustainability of these systems. We are developing a 10 lesson package that involves the system becoming an educational resource. For example a system could be used to as a resource for; oceanography, electronics, chemistry, geometry, physics, mechanical workshop, technical drawing and so on. These are few of the subjects that could benefit from this technology. The students would be required to carry out regular maintenance programs as a part of their curriculum assessment.
The UC engineering students are required to present a report at each stage and by the time they will have finished this project they could be involved in projects of this type in other locations. They are required to identify problems and to address these.
There is a prototype systems established in Eua that would make ideal comparative studies to the Vavau HS system as these two locations are 300km apart. This means that the cost benefits to the communities in Eua will be different to those in Vava’u.
All fossil fuels come to Nukualofa and are then transported to other islands increasing the cost of the fuel and there by the cost benefit to a community in a remote location is increased enormously by having a reliable and cheap power source that is local. Over a period of time the establishment of such a system would pay for itself and this can be estimated by the establishment of a system on Vavau and one on Eua.
UC Engineers Investigate the use of Alternative Energy in Tongan Schools
Eight University of Canterbury engineering students and graduates are using their skills and knowledge to help solve energy problems at a secondary school in Tonga. The group, comprising members of Engineers Without Borders Canterbury chapter, plans to install a photovoltaic system on the roof of the administration block at Vava'u High School in Neiafu. They hope to get the system, which will convert solar energy into electricity, running in July. However, $35,000 sponsorship is needed to get the team and its equipment to the island nation to complete the project.
The project, which will help the school reduce its power costs, is a joint initiative between Engineers Without Borders New Zealand and the EcoCARE Pacific Trust, a non-profit organisation set up by University of Canterbury alumni to address health, education and environmental issues in the Pacific region. The UC team is made up of six students and two recent graduates from a range of engineering disciplines and from different levels of study.
Team supervisor Professor Pat Bodger (Electrical and Computer Engineering) said schools in Tonga received an allocated amount of electricity each year “but it’s not enough to cover their usage so they have to go to the community for money to pay for the extra power, or close the school”. “So anything that can provide the school with extra electricity at no cost is a good thing,” he said.
Five students, accompanied by Professor Bodger, visited the Tongan high school last November to discuss the school’s energy needs with staff, students and community to determine the most appropriate solution to the school’s power problems. The team also collected meteorological data, talked to local authorities and energy providers and carried out energy and water audits. Team member Sam Davies, who is studying towards a Master of Engineering in Management, said the photovoltaic system would provide 10-15 per cent of the school’s electricity needs. “It should cover the excess electricity the school uses over its allocation,” he said. “But it’s not just about providing electricity for the school. It’s also an opportunity for the students at the school, as well as the wider community to learn more about renewable energy so we’re also looking at ways the school can include the project in their curriculum.”
Suzanna Remmerswaal, a second professional year natural resources engineering student, and Robert Cardwell, a Master of Engineering in Management student, said the project had been a good experience for the team as it had given them all a chance to put the skills and concepts they had acquired through study into practice. “And from a project management side, there are a lot of things to organise — and that’s just as important as the technical side of the project,” said Suzanna.
Professor Bodger said the project was a “wonderful experience” for the students. “Their enthusiasm, commitment and care has been fantastic.” The team is currently designing the photovoltaic system under the supervision of mentors from the University’s College of Engineering and the Electric Power Engineering Centre in the University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
While installing the system in July the team also plans to carry out further research on other areas which they identified in November as needing attention, such as problems with the school’s computers, classroom fixtures, water supply and drainage system.