Tonga a world leader in offsetting diesel power with solar


Tonga’s northern island group of Vava’u is now a world leader in offsetting diesel-powered electricity with solar energy.

A new 500kW hybrid solar farm has been developed by Abu Dhabi-based renewable energy company Masdar as part of the UAE Pacific Partnership Fund – a grant fund co-ordinated by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and provided by Abu Dhabi Fund for Development.

The project was designed and constructed by Australian based Ingenero and has one of the highest penetrations of solar to diesel power anywhere in the world.

Ingenero general manager of generation Rodger Whitby said the company was proud to have been involved in the design and installation of such an important asset for the region’s future.

“The plant will produce more than 870MWh of electricity per year and offset an estimated 225,000L of diesel,” he said.

The brief was to provide a solution that maximised solar output and fuel savings, while not compromising the stability of the existing power generation and grid systems for the island community. To achieve this, the system was designed specifically for the island’s diesel generator configuration. Ingenero incorporated the SMA Fuel Save technology into the plant to allow for flexible usage patterns that achieve solar penetration at levels up to 70 per cent in the middle of the day.

The system limits solar output to a degree so the diesel generators can always respond if the PV output drops suddenly.

“The beauty of the hybrid project is that the solar and diesel combined plant provides uninterrupted power for remote 24/7 operations for island communities.  Put simply it is a cost saving alternative that significantly reduces emissions,” Mr Whitby said.

The region is challenged by volatile fossil fuel prices, costly supply routes and relatively small energy markets. Solar hybrid farms have the potential to shield Pacific and south east Asian nations from rising costs of imported fuels, moving towards a more sustainable and secure energy future. With ambitious renewable energy targets, the successful implementation of hybrid solar technology on the Island of Vava’u is providing other Asia Pacific nations with a strong test case for consideration.

Ingenero is leveraging the expertise gained in Tonga to bid for other large-scale projects in the Pacific. It has also opened an office in Thailand to respond to government renewable target incentives.

The project is owned by the Tonga Energy Road Map 2010-20, a 10-year plan that aims to increase the community’s access to modern energy services in an environmentally sustainable manner. It’s managed by Tonga Power Limited.

Correction: The January/February issue of Energy Source and Distribution suggested SMA-Australia installed the solar farm in Vava’u. It should have stated Ingenero installed the solar farm in Vava’u.

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