Tonga: Small Country, Big Renewable Energy Dreams

kingdom of tongaThe tiny Kingdom of Tonga consisting of 176 islands scattered over 700,000 square kilometres (270,000 sq mi) of ocean in the South Pacific, has set an ambitious renewable energy target of 50% by 2020 – proving to the world the renewable energy is not just for “developed countries”.

Launched in 2010, the Tongan government laid out its Tonga Energy Road Map (TERM) in order to reduce carbon emissions, improve its electrical grid, and cut its dependence from foreign energy sources.

During the oil price spike in 2008, Tonga’s economy screeched to a halt. And since then, with oil prices continuing to rise, many consumers are not able to afford electricity at all.

The Tongan economy and electricity consumers had been exposed to high and volatile electricity prices linked to oil prices over the last ten years. Between 2001 and 2004, the average price of crude oil increased from around US$25 per barrel to around US$40 per barrel, an increase of 60%. In the next 4 years to 2008, the average price of crude more than doubled to a peak of around US$100 per barrel. In late 2008, crude oil prices dropped and continued fall into early 2009 averaging around US$62 per barrel during 2009. Diesel prices tracked the price of crude oil and led to Tongan electricity rates exceeding TOP1.00/kW-h in late 2008. Crude oil price is expected to increase in the future based on projections from the United States Department of Energy.

Now, thanks to grants from New Zealand and with technical support from the Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Program (REEEP), Tonga is able to move forward with its renewable energy ambitions. And the nation is hopeful it will be “a blueprint for other Pacific Island states that are grappling with similar challenges,” said Martin Hiller, the Director General of REEEP.

Tonga signed an MOU this January with Masdar (a company best known for its planned super-green city… Masdar) and the Abu Dhabi Fund for a large solar photovoltaic (PV) project on one of its islands. The 500-kilowatt solar PV project, being built on Vava’u Island, is projected to provide electricity to over 13% of the island’s power. Tonga’s 110,000 citizens. Another solar project on its main island, Tongatapu (where 80% of the population lives), is already being constructed. “The 1MW solar farm currently under construction there will generate 4-5% of annual generation of Tongatapu,”

At Green and Gold Solar we applaud Tonga’s efforts in achieving a renewable energy future and will follow Tonga’s renewable story over the coming years.


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