Essential Energy helps brighten Vanuatu villages

Solar panels on a health clinic on Efate, Vanuatu. Image by Solar Energy Industry Association
Solar panels on a health clinic on Efate, Vanuatu. Image by Solar Energy Industry Association

Essential Energy has found an innovative way to recycle surplus solar panels that will brighten the future for villagers in parts of Vanuatu left devastated by Cyclone Pam in 2015.

The 700 PV modules from Essential Energy’s small-scale demonstration solar farm in Queanbeyan will be contributed to the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) for use in its overseas volunteer aid work.

Essential Energy’s CEO John Cleland said the ageing solar farm had been identified as surplus to business requirements and recently decommissioned.

“We initially offered the solar farm components for disposal through a public tender process but when that was unsuccessful we explored other options for the equipment,” he said.

“One of our employees discovered the SEIA aid project that aims to improve the living conditions for Vanuatu’s poorest and most isolated people by providing solar power for their households. It was a natural fit and a wonderful example of recycling to make a difference in other people’s lives.”

SEIA project manager Diana Pook said the panels would be installed on village school roofs and huts and used in conjunction with 12-volt batteries to supply basic lighting for villages. The project will deliver many benefits, including enabling islander children to study and complete their homework in the evenings.

“SEIA is excited to partner with Essential Energy to help the people of Vanuatu,” she said.

“We have already undertaken a number of projects and look forward to utilising the generous contribution from Essential Energy to complete many more.”

Accredited contractor SMART (Solar Maintenance And Renewable Technologies) will begin dismantling the solar farm today in preparation for the delicate operation of packaging the panels onto pallets and shipping them to SEIA in Sydney ready for export to the South Pacific in October.

“SMART is proud to be part of this great story on the positive use of decommissioned PV modules,” director Dave Galloway said.

“It’s fantastic to be able to work with Essential Energy and SEIA with their forward thinking attitude towards benefiting the PV industry, remote communities and, specifically, the correct handling of decommissioned PV modules. This is as great step forward and example that has been set.”

The 50kW Queanbeyan solar farm occupies a 1872sq m space adjacent to Essential Energy’s Queanbeyan Depot and was established in 1998 as a small-scale demonstration of renewable energy generation. However, the low system efficiency compared with current technology meant the equipment has reached the end of its serviceable life.