Island News

Fiji needs to focus on renewable energy sources

Written By : CAMA TUILOMA*. Energy is a basic human need and without it, everything would come to a standstill. It is indispensable to foster human development and economic growth.
09 Oct 2010 12:00

image Written By : CAMA TUILOMA*.
Energy is a basic human need and without it, everything would come to a standstill.
It is indispensable to foster human development and economic growth.
Secure, affordable, reliable, clean and sustainable energy supplies are needed for sustainable economic growth, but increases in associated Green House Gas (GHG) emissions are a cause of major concern.
Accelerating levels of greenhouse gases are becoming a significant international challenge, causing global warming and the resultant climate change.
Energy-related emissions have been rising rapidly since 1990, driven by the economic growth of emerging economies, and the availability of fossil fuel resources.
The world today is facing a changing energy landscape that is driven by a reliance on carbon-based fuels, uncertain supply, and environmentally unsustainable energy policies, in consuming and producing nations alike.
The over reliance on carbon-based fuels to meet ever increasing demand not only results in higher energy prices, but rapidly accelerates climate change, and threatens the health and quality of life for people and our planet.
The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) 2002 agreed on a comprehensive agenda on energy for sustainable development.
Guided by the overarching objectives of sustainable development and poverty alleviation, governments, including ours, agreed to improve access to “reliable, affordable, economically viable, socially acceptable and environmentally sound energy services and resources”, to increase the use of renewable energies, to enhance energy efficiency, and to provide cleaner liquid and gaseous fuels.
In its most recent World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency, warned that without new policies, carbon dioxide emissions would grow from 26 billion tonnes a year in 2004 to 40 billion tonnes a year in 2030.
Emissions could rise to as much as 58 billion tonnes a year by 2050.
That is almost 140% above current levels.
The report concludes that “the outlook is worse than had previously been thought.”

Climate change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that failure to act will lead to the risk of shortages of water and extensive drought, rising sea levels and storm surges that will threaten coastal areas, lower yields from agriculture in already vulnerable regions, change in yields in forests and fisheries, the loss of many animal and plant species, more intense and damaging storms, and increased health risks in many regions.
Poorer countries are likely to suffer disproportionately, but all countries will be affected, and where and when this would happen is only a matter of time.
The fact is, the consequences of failure to take action are evident. It is no exaggeration to say that climate change poses serious challenges, not just for the environment, but for peace and security in the 21st century.
The international community does not have the luxury of much other option, but to work together with a common and collective desire to address this threat to our planet.
Today the world is facing huge challenges: global warming, depleting natural resources, population growth, increasing energy demand, rising energy prices and unequal distribution of energy sources.
All of these factors contribute to the urgent need to transform the energy sector, which primarily relies on fossil fuels, to one that uses renewable energies and energy efficient technologies.
The benefits provided by renewables will differ among and within countries, depending on the local situation, options, and concerns.
Among the benefits that can flow from increased use of renewable energy are: enhanced security of energy supply, reduced threat of climate change, stimulation of economic growth, jobs creation (often in rural areas), higher incomes, poverty reduction, improved social equity, and protection of the environment at all levels.
With these benefits in mind, UN Member States agreed “with a sense of urgency, to substantially increase the global share of renewable energy sources with the objective of increasing its contribution to total energy supply.”

Energy prices

In economic terms, all forms of energy are expensive, but as time progresses; renewable energy generally gets cheaper, while fossil fuels generally get more expensive.
Former US Vice President, Al Gore, has explained that renewable energy technologies are declining in price for three main reasons:
First, once the renewable infrastructure is built, the fuel is free forever.
Unlike carbon-based fuels, the wind and the sun and the earth itself provide fuel that is free, in amounts that are effectively limitless.
Second, while fossil fuel technologies are more mature, renewable energy technologies are being rapidly improved.
So innovation and ingenuity give us the ability to constantly increase the efficiency of renewable energy and continually reduce its cost.
Third, once the world makes a clear commitment to shifting toward renewable energy, the volume of production will itself sharply reduce the cost of each windmill and each solar panel, while adding yet more incentives for additional research and development to further speed up the innovation process.
Here are some interesting statistics and trends on the growth of renewables worldwide:
During the five-years from the end of 2004 through 2009, worldwide renewable energy capacity grew at rates of 10-60 percent annually for many technologies.
For wind power and many other renewable technologies, growth accelerated in 2009 relative to the previous four years.
More wind power capacity was added during 2009 than any other renewable technology.
However, grid-connected PV increased the fastest of all renewables technologies, with a 60-percent annual average growth rate for the five-year period.
At the end of 2009, worldwide wind farm capacity was 157,900 MW, representing an increase of 31 percent during the year, and wind power supplied some 1.3% of global electricity consumption.
Photovoltaic production has been increasing by an average of some 20 percent each year since 2002, making it a fast-growing energy technology.
At the end of 2009, the cumulative global PV installations surpassed 21,000 megawatts (MW).

Developing countries

In developing country markets, renewable energy can be particularly suitable for developing countries.
In rural and remote areas, transmission and distribution of energy generated from fossil fuels can be difficult and expensive.
Producing renewable energy locally can offer a viable alternative.
Biomass cookstoves are used by 40 percent of the world’s population.
These stoves are being manufactured in factories and workshops worldwide, and more than 160 million households now use them.
More than 30 million rural households get lighting and cooking from biogas made in household-scale digesters.
An estimated 3 million households get power from small solar PV systems. Micro-hydro systems configured into village-scale or county-scale mini-grids serve many areas.
Renewable energy projects in many developing countries have demonstrated that renewable energy can directly contribute to poverty alleviation by providing the energy needed for creating businesses and employment.
Renewable energy technologies can also make indirect contributions to alleviating poverty by providing energy for cooking, space heating, and lighting.
Renewable energy can also contribute to education, by providing electricity to schools.
Finally, in terms of global renewable energy investment growth (1995-2007), Global revenues for solar photovoltaics, wind power, and biofuels expanded from $76 billion in 2007 to $115 billion in 2008.
New global investments in clean energy technologies expanded by 4.7 percent from $148 billion in 2007 to $155 billion in 2008.

Fiji situation

Fiji faces common challenges resulting from its small size, geographic isolation and natural disaster vulnerability.
Unfortunately, in the past, we have failed to recognise the impact of our heavy dependence and vulnerability to worldwide price fluctuations on imported petroleum products, evidenced by this observation.
In recent years, our petroleum imports have moved from around $400 million in 2004 to a little over $1.2 billion dollars in 2008.
That equates to a quarter of our total imports, and the alarming fact is that our energy consumption had tripled in that period of 4 years. Currently, Fiji’s imports stand at around 563 million litres of imported mineral fuels in 2009.
For our electricity demand, despite efforts in developing renewable energy resources, such as hydro, Fiji will remain reliant on a significant proportion of power generation based on diesel.
In fact, against this backdrop, the Reserve Bank economic review reports a growth in electricity demand of 8.1% as at July this year.For a small economy like Fiji, the effects of such consumption and expenditures is not recommended, and also means, reduced budgets for critical social concerns such as infrastructure, education and health.
Our dependence and vulnerability to worldwide price fluctuations on imported petroleum products, is therefore of great concern to Government, and therefore it has decided that our fuel import bill should be reduced by $100 million in the next three years.
At the moment our electricity mix is about 60:40 for Renewables to fossil fuels.
The 40% further translates to $80 – $100 million dollars in fuel bill by our FEA.
To this effect, the FEA is aggressively pursuing renewable energy power generation, with the target now set for 90% renewables by 2015. With this target it requires a massive investment in order to meet our needs.
To foster competition, improve service and reduce cost, Government is also looking at Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to enter and invest in the power sector.
With the current levels of energy demand and the uncertainty in future global oil prices, Fiji is moving onto a path of low-carbon growth, by improving its energy efficiency; developing and expanding the use of clean energy sources; reducing fugitive greenhouse gas emissions such as methane released from our sanitary treatment plants and landfills; modernising public transport systems; and arresting the assault of deforestation.
Government’s integrated energy plan is focused and committed toward, a new renewable energy path which demands a new development approach, innovative thinking and cooperative actions to address the current and future level of energy consumptions.
The mission is to strengthen Fiji’s energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality in public-private partnerships that: enhance energy efficiency and productivity; bring clean, reliable and affordable energy technologies to the marketplace; and make a difference in the everyday lives of our citizens and visitors alike by enhancing their energy choices and their quality of life.

National Energy Policy

In 2006, the Government of Fiji endorsed its first ever National Energy Policy (NEP) that seeks to address the major constraints of the country’s energy sector in ensuring the sustainable supply of electricity to support social and economic development.
Among the key constraints and associated proposed solutions, is the issue of an Integrated Energy Plan that is in-line with a strong and consistent National Energy Policy, because such a situation creates an environment of uncertainty for energy consumers, as well as public and private sector investors.
An additional barrier to the development and utilisation of the country’s renewable energy resources, and the development of large scale renewable energy programmes, was the lack of a comprehensive energy legislation and regulations.
The presence of clear and consistent energy policies including the enactment and enforcement of an Energy Act (including the associated implementing rules and regulations) would encourage the increased use of, and investment in, RE-based power generation in the country.
These issues are now being addressed by the Department of Energy, and this symposium is useful and timely to assist us in this effort.
Like any other nation, Fiji cannot be developed without energy.
But conventional energy that comes from the utilisation of fossil fuels is expensive and will get more expensive with time.
For the Pacific, the use of fossil fuels is a double edged sword; on one side, expensive, and on the other, it’s associated implications for climate change and the vulnerabilities of small island states to those impacts.
Fiji and indeed the whole Pacific must now focus on renewable energy sources and technologies. We will need the support and commitment of both the private sector and academic institutions like the Fiji National University to drive this initiative.
It is important to work together to develop renewable energy sources that are cost-effective and that do not harm our fragile island ecosystems.
Government through its Department of Energy has been, and will continue to conduct wide and extensive consultations with Government policy makers and regulators, as well as the business community and all stakeholders, to design and implement the correct policy and regulatory frameworks, and the adoption of new technologies to advance the development of renewable energy sources, practices and investments in wind energy, solar energy, hydropower, geothermal, biomass and biofuels, and a number of other sustainable and local indigenous renewable energy sources.
The ministry is working very hard to promote public awareness and implement training programmes with respect to the practice of energy conservation and efficient use of energy in every sector of the economy.
The two days symposium will discuss these issues, and experts and professionals from within Fiji and abroad who are present will deliberate on renewable energy technologies and exchange notes, experiences and ideas on this critically important area.
Generally, there is insufficient knowledge and lack of understanding, and consequently, there is a dire need for training and capacity building in many areas of renewable energy development.
Our Government is therefore thankful for this summit and the expertise present to highlight some of these in your discussions.
The ministry is indeed grateful to the FNU for introducing the course on Diploma in Renewable Energy Technologies, as this will help to provide the crop of young people who will undergo a programme that will provide hands-on training, skills and knowledge on renewable energy.
It will train our young people to implement skills such as resource assessments and install wind turbines, solar panels and mini hydro systems. We are also informed that the College of Engineering, Science and Technology is in the process of developing a Bachelors programme for this.
Government with its Energy Policy is developing an Energy Legislation that seeks to ensure energy security and maximise efficient and renewable energy for all; and support infrastructure projects, energy sector reforms, capacity building, and good governance.
Establishing an enabling environment and catalyzing investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency, are critical to Government’s initiative of transitioning toward a lower fossil fuel based economy.
Some thoughts that we may wish to ponder on:
1. accessing and utilising Fiji’s geothermal resources for electricity generation;
2. developing hydro-electric systems because studies undertaken in the past have shown that there are over 200 streams and rivers in the country which can be developed;
3. developing a mechanical way of extracting oil from our various oil bearing fruits and nuts for later blending as biofuel as it is easier to ship oil in drums to Suva for further processing than to ship bags or sacks of such fruits and nuts;
4. land to be made available for planting oil bearing fruits and nuts;
5. setting up factories for producing solar systems at cost effective prices so that we can harness all the sunlight we can;
6. setting up factories that can produce wind turbines for generating electricity from the small systems to the major grid connected systems;
7. developing factories that can produce turbines for generating electricity from wave and currents in our coastal waters where the conditions are conducive to this; and
8. encouraging and promoting innovations, research and development, data and information gathering, in renewable energy technologies, as Fiji is a renewable energy rich country, with good to excellent potential in various renewable energy sources such as wind energy, solar energy, hydro power, biomass, biofuel, geothermal and ocean energy technologies, Fiji being an island nation surrounded by ocean, such as wave and tidal energy, for utilization in Fiji.
Government will partner with business, companies, organizations and institutions such as the Fiji National University through cooperative efforts such as this symposium, to create and adopt innovative ideas, formulate effective policy and regulatory frameworks, and identify suitable renewable energy technologies that can provide affordable and sustainable solutions to our energy challenges and needs.
l (The writer is the Permanent Secretary for Works, Transport and Public Utilities. This was his presentation at the Renewable Energy Technology Symposium at the Fiji National University)

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