Tokelau’s Energy Milestone: Atafu expands renewable energy to Matagi, enabling economic growth and development
As the climate change debate rages and turns more political globally, Tokelau, the world’s fourth smallest populated country continues its development commitment to a low-carbon economic pathway.
Recently, on Mother’s Day Weekend, 13 May, it celebrated another low-carbon milestone on Atafu, at 2.5 square kilometers, the smallest of the three atolls that make up the Tokelau Group.
It was the successful connection of a Power cable bringing 11,000V of electricity from its solar-powered grid to Matagi, a remote corner of Atafu. Marked by a ceremony attended by Atafu village dignitaries and elders. The significance of the occasion was an emotional one for elders, many of them saying they never thought they would still be alive to see electricity reach Matagi.
“This is a very significant development for us,” Atafu’s aliki faipule (government minister), Hon. Kelihiano Kalolo told Pacific Guardians.
“You have to go back to days gone when this was just wishful talk and dream of our elders. Many of them are no longer with us.
“What this occasion signifies is the people of Atafu are no longer left behind. That we have joined the modern times, and can now actively take part in the types of amenities and quality of life that modern technology has brought citizens of developed countries but with minimal carbon emissions.
“And you can see our newfound reality that the extension of the power infrastructure will bring us. It will enable the economic plans and aspirations we’ve had for many years.”
He subscribes to the concept that an increase in electrification will support a higher quality of education and health care, and empower local entrepreneurs.
“For example, we have a new motel being constructed which, with the help of our Economic Development department, we are hopeful to see the development of a number of tourism enterprises that would bring us new sources of revenues, employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for our young people.
“We can now service our bulk store, waste management facility and confidently go ahead with our next big project which is the construction of the Fatupaepae building (complex for women).
“I guess we can call this the enabler of our ‘village crawl’ as compared to urban crawl. And this is just the start as we now look forward to extending the infrastructure to Motuloa and Fogalaki.”
Hon Kalolo emphasized that even though Tokelau is too small to influence global climate and energy negotiations and politics, it can however champion the pathway the Pacific region has vowed to walk in regards to renewable energy and the fight to reduce fossil fuels and carbon emissions.
Tokelau’s Director of Energy, Mr Robin Pene re-enforced the messages by Hon Kalolo.
“Pacific island countries have the potential to strengthen local economies and enhance quality of life by scaling up the use of renewable power and increasing energy efficiency, and Tokelau is proof that size doesn’t matter if you put your mind to it.
“This is not just about fighting climate change”, he argued.
“What we’re doing here is that by improving our energy system in terms of security and resilience, we can also improve living standards and create opportunities for economic growth that if handled wisely, will provide our people with prosperity and well-being that is sustainable.”
The other major benefit of the Power extension was providing an opportunity for TeleTok communications to also lay down a telephone and internet service connection to the developing area.
With the two utilities working in tandem Matagi now has a fully enabled environment for its development and economic aspirations.
Mr Pene also announced that a “ring-main system” for Atafu village is expected to be in place before end of 2017. And the same system is planned for Nukunonu and Fakaofo to be in place by end of 2018 “providing much safer and durable networks.”
He added, “At the moment there is only one cable supplying the village. So if we have a fault on that cable, it will cut the power to the village.
“By running another cable and create a circular pattern (ringmain)to the distribution it means that if one side fails, we can feed power through the other side. That will allow us to isolate the damaged area, repair it without interrupting supply to the village.
The three-stage project has involved three years of planning, negotiating and acquiring the necessary materials.
“The infrastructure is now finally coming into fruition which began with stage 1 being an additional 33kilowatt of solar generation and 1 x 48volt battery bank to each of the three villages completed September 2016. This was successfully implemented to ease the increasing demand load on the stored energy aiming to maintain an expected 10 year plus life span of the storage batteries,” explained Mr Pene.
“Stage 2 this year includes the now completed Matagi power install and will be followed with a trial 10kilowatt wind turbine to be sited at Tepapa, Fakaofo. Also planned are improvements to the Fale Fakaofo high voltage distribution scheduled for completion by December 2017.
“Stage 3 will take place during 2018 with improvements to all three village distribution networks that include the 11000volt “Ringmain” system mentioned earlier, more transformers, replacement of faulty and unsafe 11kV switchboards and upgrading the low voltage network.”
When Stage 3 is completed, “Electricity to the consumer will then be as reliable as anywhere else in the world,” confirmed Mr Pene.