Increasing Rural Electrification in the Pacific

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In the Pacific, many countries depend on diesel generators for power. Energy costs remain subject to the fluctuations of global fuel prices and transportation costs. Achieving increased electrification in the Pacific islands remains a goal to reducing poverty, especially in rural and remote regions.

Renewable energy decreases widespread dependence on expensive imported fossil fuels while also expanding access to electricity. Throughout the Pacific region, communities are benefiting from increased electrification supplied by renewable energy sources, especially in rural regions. High rates of electrification are closely tied to development and poverty alleviation.

While many Pacific countries have high electrification rates, there are a few notable exceptions. In Papua New Guinea, only about 10 percent of the population has access to electricity. Other islands such as the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu also have low electrification rates, which can be improved through renewable energy. Isolated rural areas, even in countries with high electrification rates, face lower electrification rates.

New Zealand needs “cleaner, cheaper, more accessible, sustainable sources of energy across the Pacific,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said. Currently, the government supports renewable energy programs throughout the region, helping island nations develop Road Maps towards more efficient and sustainable energy systems.

Renewable energy is not new in the Pacific. Solar, wind and bio-energy solutions have all been tested with mixed success and unmaintained systems falling into disrepair. New efforts are focused on supporting systems locally so they can be continually operated and maintained for lasting energy solutions.

Composed of remote islands and countries with limited fossil fuels, the Pacific region faces unique challenges in transitioning to renewable energy. These challenges hinder remote and often impoverished communities from successfully developing. Several alternative energy sources are being explored including hydropower, wind power, bio-energy and geothermal energy.

Renewable energy is an especially exciting option for the Pacific for many reasons including:
– 1. Off-grid technology using solar panels is a good option for remote families and communities.

– 2. Solar energy is increasingly used in agriculture and increases productivity.

– 3. Access to electricity reduces the risk of fire from kerosene lamps and candles.

– 4. There are still more opportunities for solar energy. The New Zealand government encourages the use of solar power in the growing tourism sector.

– 5. In addition to being off-grid, mini-grids can be supported by connecting smaller communities to the same resources.

– 6. Increased electrification allows for medical facilities to operate safely and children to study at night improving health and education, according to an infographic by the World Bank.

In the Pacific, the World Bank supports renewable resource projects on several island nations including Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Kiribati and Papua New Guinea. In media accompanying the projects, the World Bank said “renewable energy sources enhance energy security and sustainability.” The organization estimates governments in the region spend as much as 10-25 percent of the GDP on fossil fuels.

In the same media, the Bank reports Vanuatu’s target is for 65 percent of electricity to come from renewable energy by 2020. Spread across numerous islands, the country also aims to provide 90 percent of the population access to electricity, up from 27 percent.

In Port Vila and Loganville, Vanuatu’s main urban centers, electricity is accessible. Connecting to the power grid makes the electrification levels in these areas triple the national rate according to the World Bank’s video “Bringing Electricity to Vanuatu’s Poorest Families.”

To help Vanuatu achieve its goals, the World Bank is supporting the Improved Electricity Access Project. This project subsidizes connections to the power grid and will connect more than 4,000 low-income families to electricity.

Long term, the World Bank is committed to “connecting more than 85,000 people to electricity by 2019.” The organization proposes to do this primarily through renewable resources. In a country of 260,000 people, achieving these targets will have an impact on over 30 percent of the population.

Sources: New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Promoting Energy Efficiency in the Pacific, World Bank 1, World Bank 2

Photo: Flickr

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