Pacific Renewables

Written By: - Date published: 10:30 am, March 25th, 2013 - 20 comments
Categories: aid, climate change, Conservation, energy, International, john key, sustainability - Tags: , , ,

There is an important summit on renewable energy in the Pacific in Auckland today and tomorrow, which is strongly supported by the PM.  His press release focuses on the investment opportunities it provides, rather than the needs of Pacific people and their communities.

Nevertheless, it’s great that there is a focus on helping small Pacific countries manage the inter-related crises in energy and climate change.  It will be interesting to see the outcomes from the conference.  It is, however, worrying that key, Murray McCully and others are talking up the role of private enterprise in the shift to renewable energy in the Pacific.

Claire Trevett, in this morning’s NZ Herald, reports:

Several Pacific Island Prime Ministers are in Auckland today for a summit to drum up money to reduce the islands’ dependence on diesel for energy….

Most of the Pacific Island leaders arrived last week, before being taken by the air force to Tonga for two days of meetings.

Mr McCully said using the air force for the Tonga talks was appropriate given the EU had helped cover the costs for the leaders to get to New Zealand.

“We felt it was appropriate for us to take care of the Tonga leg. There aren’t that many flights to Tonga and there aren’t that many seats available for the number of people we had to travel.”

The summit is one of the largest international meetings to be held in New Zealand and tens of millions of dollars of donor and loan funding is expected to be announced. The EU alone is expected to announce more than $14 million for energy projects, and Mr McCully said the summit was also to encourage more private sector investment.

He said many Pacific countries relied on diesel for more than 95 per cent of their energy needs, spending on average about 10 per cent of their GDP on importing it. About 80 renewable energy projects had been identified to help slash that back.

Others attending include Helen Clark, the head of the United Nations Development Programme.

The summit includes a range of government and international entities and representatives, which will hopefully ensure some balance in the discussions.  I hope the MSM reports give the summit balanced, critical and in-depth coverage, but I’m not holding my breath. According to the website, Electric Light and Power (an industry/business-focused organisation), the following entities are attending the summit:

In addition to most Pacific leaders, the Summit will be attended by international donors such as the EU, Australia, Japan, China, the United Arab Emirates, the World Bank Group and Asian Development Bank; and the heads of international organisations including the International Renewable Energy Agency.

“In countries in which there are good procedural and institutional arrangements it is relatively simple to use the power pricing arrangements as a base to configure a mix of grant funding, concessional finance and commercial finance to make a viable project. For this reason, the attendance of major donors like the EU, alongside finance providers like the World Bank and the Asia Development Bank provide us with an unprecedented opportunity to construct optimal packages to suit projects and national circumstances,” Mr McCully says.

“All of the indications are that we will see very substantial commitments of both grant and loan finance on a scale that will enable a quantum leap forward toward renewable energy within our region.

Interesting also that, in that article, McCully is reported to have acknowledged the existence of climate change.

It’s worrying that it’s referred to as being like “speed dating” in the RNZ report on the summit this morning.

It is promising to hear that Tokelau has shifted totally to renewables.  In the RNZ audio report, the EU rep hopes that the shift to renewables Pacific will demonstrate that clean energy can help to reduce poverty. He argues that this will give them extra leverage in negotiations to reduce carbon emissions.

The summit appears to be focused on stimulating investment in green energy projects.  I have not yet seen reports that focus in any detail on the impacts on Pacific communities. Certainly, reducing emissions, and development of renewable energy should be beneficial.  however, I have concerns about international investors using it as an opportunity to gain leverage in, and extract profits from the Pacific region.

20 comments on “Pacific Renewables”

  1. Draco T Bastard 1

    …I have concerns about international investors using it as an opportunity to gain leverage in, and extract profits from the Pacific region.

    It’s the extraction of profit and turning even more people into unwilling serfs that has those investors there at all.

  2. Peter 3

    Doug Williams (Fluidyne Gasification) did a pile of pioneering work on renewables in the Pacific in the 1970s and early 1980s, only to have a lot of it scuttled by the rapid drop in oil prices post North Slope/North Sea in the mid 1980s.

    The best option for renewables in the Pacific is likely to be robust, long-lived intermediate technology, preferably linked with existing or slightly changed agricultural systems, rather than the latest high-tech gadget that cannot be maintained or sustained over the long term. Energy is about people, and people have to understand where it comes from.

    For that, I’d be taking inspiration for the Pacific from India, and other places in rural Asia or Africa that also have these challenges.

  3. Tiresias 4

    Would be great if New Zealand encouraged some Pacific Islands to spend some of New Zealand’s contribution on a few of New Zealand’s world-leading, employment-creating, ideal-for-these- locations, small, lightweight, easily-erectable, mains-synchronised but-struggling-to-acheive-market-penetration 500MW Windflow Turbines.

    (Disclosure: I have shares in Windflow, but I know I shouldn’t be pushing them and can see that the New Zealand Government has no business pushing a perfect-for-everyone solution either. Whew, nearly let my vested-interest coincide with common sense there.)

    • ghostrider888 4.1

      did ya get the memo about the Mark 10 echo?

    • granted 4.2

      There are some wind turbines in Fiji already. They had lots of issues especially dealing with cyclonic activity. The performance has been less than what was expected (no I cannot recall the actual report but read it somewhere).

      The on-going issue in the islands (as I have encountered) is that offshore suppliers underestimate how harsh the environment is (Wind, sand,salt, rain etc). Maintenance is always an ongoing issue – a generalisation is that preventative maintenance is not understood. Wait for things to break, then fix, or left broken if there is no money or its just “too hard”.

      Mechanisation in the islands requires education of the users. Just look at the state of transport buses in Fiji which is more advanced than most neighbouring islands.

      This may sound negative, but it is the current state of play and of course nothing is insurmountable…

      • MrSmith 4.2.1

        After spending sometime in Fiji and Tonga I totally agree, there’s know point in handing out things that once broken can’t be fixed, because up there folks there’s know-one around with the knowledge or materials to fix a lot of things, once things break they just throw them out the window, fiji being the best example with there rubbish problem.

        The talk of climate change by the Minister is promising after Blinglish almost saying the word the other day, but to little to late now, this trains not going to stop before a lot of suffering by some.

      • karol 4.2.2

        granted and MrS, you have added an important perspective.

        I fear that leaving too much of the funding/investment up to the private sector will mean they aim for cheapness over long-term effectiveness.

        I hope they are seriously examining such issues at the summit.

        • Tiresias

          The first Windflow overseas turbine is now running in the Orkneys, which is quite a windy, salty spot I hear. However the Windflow is specially designed for windy sites.

          Frankly were I an islander I might find the intimation that me and mine weren’t long-enough out of our grass skirts to manage this kind of technology somewhat insulting, but as that might involve my having to climb out of my hammock beneath the gently waving palm-fronds I probably wouldn’t bother.

          • karol

            I didn’t take the comment by granted to be regurgitating a “lazy Islander” myth. Rather that it was referring to the failure of the offshore suppliers to understand the local needs. There is likely to be a limited range of expertise in a small country in managing new technologies. Plus there is possibly a lack of will by the overseas suppliers to either contribute to upskilling some locals, or follow up on the resources they’ve helped provide.

      • insider 4.2.3

        Fiji has quite significant hydro power but much goes to the major gold mine on the main island

  4. check out this initiative from the residents and diaspora of the northern Tongan islands of Niuatoputapu Niuafo’ou and Tafahi, as they fundraise for a prototype sailing/ cargo boat to service their communities.

  5. insider 6

    There is no alternative to diesel at present or on the horizon. For those islands that have major tourist industries and want 24 hr power it is just a fantasy. Diesel is reliable, is scaleable, is relatively simple and easy to maintain, and requires minimal infrastructure. The island leaders hate having to pay for fuel because it is so expensive and have been looking at options for years, but not found anything. But they know they’ll hate having no power for their govt offices, schools and hospitals more.
    I’d be concerned that islands will be come more dependent on aid and less diverse economies if they are pushed into relying on renewables. reliable electricity gives them some chance of a 21st century lifestyle, but most of the islands simply don’t have the space to provide regular power from diverse sources.

    • Colonial Viper 6.1

      This. Fossil fuels rock* and suitcase fusion generators don’t seem to have been invented yet.

      *This is not an endorsement of the concentrated energy, flexibility and on demand convenience of fossil fuels, just recognition that they rock.

  6. Jenny 7

    While Pacific Island leaders worry about climate change and talk about transitioning to renewables.

    On the biggest Pacifc Island of them all. New Zealanders plan to expand fossil fuel extraction in both the public and private sector. Bathhurst is being allowed to level the Denniston Plateau for coal for the lucrative export market, Endarko wants to explore deep sea oil, and the government is contemplating bailing out failing SOE, Solid Energy at huge expense so that they can continue their rape of the climate.

    Pacific Island Nations suffering at the sharp end of climate change, should end their conference with a strong denunciation of the host nation for hypocrisy, greed, and indifference to the plight of the Pacific peoples, being ravaged by rising seas and super-charged by climate change, super storms. Particularly if after this conference, they are still to left to be held to ransom by the oil companies.

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