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Cook Islands: renewable energy goal is out of reach

Cook Islands: renewable energy goal is out of reach
Cook Islands: renewable energy goal is out of reach
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The Cook Islands aim of becoming totally dependent on renewable energy by 2020 is looking increasingly out of reach, with renewable energy generation now accounting for just above 16 per cent of all power generated on Rarotonga.

And it seems there’s no end in sight to the ban placed on new private sector solar electricity installations back in 2015, with power utility Te Aponga Uira (TAU) making no comment on when it will acquire a new storage battery capable of handling the required amount of excess energy, Cook Islands News reports.

At the time of the ban, a TAU spokesman said the island’s power network had reached its capacity to store excess energy. Effectively, the uptake of solar energy on the island had reached maximum capacity for the batteries storing it, the spokesman added.

TAU said the ban would enable them to safely sustain a stable network of electricity supply to all customers. However, it also led to a sudden loss of employment for contractors, and forced some homeowners to rely solely on non-renewable energy sources.

TAU says the stability of its grid is critical, especially when diesel generated power at the Avatiu Valley Power Station is impacted by an island-wide spread of solar generation sources.

In a combined media release with the Cook Islands Investment Corporation (CIIC) and the Renewable Energy Development Division (REDD) this week, TAU said renewable energy and diesel generated energy sources were “basically incompatible”, with one being fixed and managed, and the other intermittent and unconstrained.

Unless a sophisticated system of enabling and control was applied, along with advanced communications technology, the energy sources would remain incompatible, the statement said.

The Asian Development Bank and the European Union have contributed more than $18m (US$12.9 million) to get solar projects going in the Cook Islands, while the local government has added at least $5.83m (US$4.2 million). In 2015, the New Zealand government completed a $20m (US$14.4 million) project to build six solar arrays.

The program has also received support from the Global Environment Fund and the Green Climate Fund. The release reveals “significant” additional investment will be necessary if the country is to achieve higher levels of renewable energy generation.

“Rarotonga’s conversion will require a balance of public and private sector resources. If we are to sustain local investment and ownership, it makes sense that we alleviate that burden as much as possible”.

According to the Cook Islands Renewable Energy Chart Implementation Plan released in 2012, energy upgrades on Rarotonga alone could cost around $214m (US$154 million).

However, TAU Spokesman Trevor Pitt says that TAU has achieved “considerable insight” since then and the estimated costs are now “significantly lower”.

He says more announcements regarding private solar would be released in coming months.

The media release says authorities will require all of 2018 to build the power infrastructure, or backbone, that will enable safe and stable distribution of electricity to all.

TAU says it has “a renewed understanding of the timeframe and its issues” and seems confident it can achieve “periods of 100 per cent (dependency on renewable energy)”, by the end of 2019.

Finance minister Mark Brown says he looks “forward to new solar installations beginning once the new battery storage comes on line later this year.”

He says he is also looking forward to finalising policies required to allow more renewable energy installations “in a sustainable manner”, as part of the country’s drive to achieving 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020.

Prime Minister Henry Puna has previously said that all of the country’s inhabited islands would generate 80 per cent of their electricity from renewable sources by the end of last year. However, he admits that the “problem is technological”, and that “the grid cannot accommodate all the renewable (energy sources) that are ready,” he said.