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A step closer to ending use of fossil fuel in Solomon Islands

Solomon Power’s solar farm at Taro in Choiseul province. Photo courtesy of Rols Sulu

THE Solomon Islands Government is moving from fossil fuel to renewable energy in an effort to enhance the country’s energy efficiency and reduce reliance on diesel fuel source through hydro and other renewable energy sources.

The move was seen as a step closer to ending its near-total reliance on diesel-powered electricity, thereby curbing greenhouse emission into the atmosphere.

Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Disaster Management and Meteorology, Dr Melchior Mataki told Island Sun this week that the government’s support in the energy sector is from a climate change mitigation perspective – reducing or avoidance of emission of greenhouse gases.

“In our case, our efforts are guided by our National Climate Policy and our nationally determined contribution.

“To this end, as you know we supported the Tina River hydropower project to access USD$86 million from the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

“We are starting the installation of solar hybrid system for Selwyn College. The intention is expand to all large boarding schools that are not connected to the Solomon Power, the only electricity provider in the country,” Dr Melchior said.

He said in addition to this, development of a diploma programme at the Solomon Islands National University (SINU) on solar power installation and maintenance using funding from the European Union (EU) through GIZ.

“We are also in the process of doing trials for the use of blends of diesel and coconut oil. Efforts on this are supported from our development funds.

“At the regional level and with the leadership of the Ministry of Mines, Energy and Rural Electrification (MMERE), we are also supporting SPC to access GCF resources to development of energy efficient standards for the Pacific,” he relayed.

On April 2017, delegations comprise of officials from the Tina Hydro Project office, Investment Corporation of Solomon Islands, Solomon Power, the government and land owners have secured the cornerstone finance of USD$86-Million for the Tina Hydro Project at the 16 meeting of GCF Board in Songdo, South Korea.

A statement from GCF said: “While much work still remains to be done to bring the Tina River Hydro Project to fruition, the decision represents a key milestone in Solomon Islands’ goal of significantly reducing its reliance on imported fuel for its energy needs. The project will allow the Government to exceed its 2025 greenhouse gas emission reduction target by more than two and a half times.”

GCF said total funding support for the Tina River Hydro project will be concluded in August this year.

Taro, the headquarters of Choiseul Province is enjoying Solomon Power’s new solar mini hybrid system. A first of its kind in the country, Taro hybrid outstation will be officially commissioned this coming Monday, June 19.

A spokesperson from Solomon Power yesterday informed Island Sun that work on the second outstation at Seghe in Western Province is progressing well. The two hybrid outstations cost Solomon Power $30 Million.

The scope includes solar panels, battery storage system, back up diesel generator and 415 V distribution network to connect about 200 customers at each of these sites

Beside Taro and Seghe, there are plans for developing of other hybrid outstations in the country. Solomon Power Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Pradip Verma has indicated that Afio in Malaita Province will be the next site.

Taro outstation made a test trial on Thursday 11 May 2017, and since Sunday 11 June, residents, business houses and essential services such as Taro Hospital are enjoying 24 hours of electricity in their homes and workplaces at the provincial township.

Residents have spoken high of the fruition of the project, describing it as historic for Taro and a milestone achievement for Solomon Power in promoting green energy.

Taro Hospital Nurse Patteson Seama told Island Sun that all departments in the hospital are benefiting from the solar hybrid power system.

“Medical equipment such as the hospital’s X-Ray machine are in full operational compared to when we used the provincial generator which can be switched on for certain hour in the day. Solomon Power continues to install cash power meters in homes and business, at least 3 houses have been installed already. Others need to pass certain requirement before they can enjoy the service,” Mr Seama relayed from Taro yesterday.

In Malaita province, Solomon Power through funding support from Asian Development Bank (ADB) is still on process in installing hydropower generation in Fiu River, near the provincial town of Auki. However, the project has been halted early this year pending a high court hearing, according to the Minister for Mines, Energy and Rural Electrification (MMERE) David Dei Pacha.

Solomon Power’s hydropower generation plans to replace diesel generation in the third-largest load centre in Solomon Islands, and extend the distribution grid to peri-urban households.

ADB have provided support to the project under loan/grant assistance to the Solomon Islands Government (SIG) under the Provincial Renewable Energy Project (PREP) LOAN 46014-002. This loan/grant assistance has been restructured and provided to Solomon Power by SIG.

The government’s bid to reduce reliance of fossil fuel and reduce electricity costs was also boosted with the first commercial solar farm that is expected to save the country millions of dollars on imported diesel fuel cost annually.

Launched on May last year, the Honiara Solar Farm 1 Megawatt project at Henderson in east Honiara is saving Solomon Power in excess of SBD$2 million in diesel fuel costs, reduce electricity tariff and reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, a statement from the government reports.

“This means that four percent of the total generation capacity in Honiara will now be taken on by the solar farm, effectively saving Solomon Power more than 400,000 litres of diesel fuel annually in fuel costs.”

The project was jointly funded by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the New Zealand Government.

Energy Minister, Mr Pacha has told the media that the project is a fulfilment of the government’s policy to realise the development of potential renewable energy sources to reduce electricity costs and increase electricity access in the country.

Members of Parliament (MPs) through small grants supplied their constituency with solar power sets. In my village of Piapia in east Guadalcanal, the use of hurricane lump for lighting is a thing of the past. Nearly every dwelling home at least has a solar power set for light at night.

Solomon Islands economy is burdened with one of the most expensive electricity retail tariffs in the world, at USD$0.65/KWH. Ninety-seven percent of Solomon Islands electricity generation is generated from diesel fuel, and just 12 percent of homes across the country being currently connected to grid power.

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