Reaching for the sun: Unlocking solar energy for Samoa

28 Aug 2014

image Mr. Rapa Young, solar project manager of Samoa's Electric Power Corporation, briefs Mr. Tetsuji Nakasone of the Japan International Cooperation Agency about solar energy’s prospects and challenges in Samoa.

Samoa, like many developing small island countries, is heavily dependent on fossil fuel for power generation. Almost 70% of its energy comes from petroleum products.

But these costly fuels expose the country to the unpredictable price of petrol imports and produce large quantities of carbon emissions. Now, Samoa is harnessing the sun with three new solar energy systems. These systems will supply renewable power to eight hundred homes, and help to reduce the country’s annual fuel consumption by some 190,000 litres, saving over US$250,000 and cutting more than 400 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year.

The three new solar energy systems have a combined capacity of 546kW and are located on the two main islands of Upolu and Savaii. Their setup was aided  through a  US$4 million grant from the Government of Japan, one of the world’s largest investors in renewable energy, via the Pacific Environment Community fund.

The investment followed a feasibility study funded by the Pacific Island Greenhouse Gas Abatement through Renewable Energy Project (PIGGAREP), a project implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), and supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

The study gave Japan the necessary data to move forward with the funding and construction of the solar systems in Samoa, said Tetsuji Nakasone, project formulation advisor for the Japan International Cooperation Agency in Samoa. “We are very pleased to see how well the systems on Upolu and Savaii are functioning”, he added. His acgency, in cooperation with other development partners, will continue  engagement in  renewable energy in Samoa and other Pacific Island countries.

The PIGGAREP project started in 2008 with funding from the GEF and received  additional funding from Denmark. The project is a joint collaboration between UNDP, SPREP and the governments of 14 Pacific Island States. It focuses on the scaling up of renewable energy solutions through policy development, skills and capacity building and by raising public awareness. It also helps  conduct feasibility studies, such as the US$60,000 solar feasibility study, environmental impact assessment, and system design work.  

This is the first year of the United Nations Decade of Sustainable Energy for All. “Through projects like PIGGAREP, the relatively modest funding for feasibility studies and baseline data has proven essential in unlocking larger investments in renewable energy and achieving progress towards the goal of access to sustainable energy for all,” said Lizbeth Cullity, UNDP Resident Representative in Samoa.

Installation of Samoa’s three new solar energy systems was completed in early 2014. The systems have helped to build local skills and capacity in the growing renewable energy sector, and lay a foundation for broader long-term economic and environmental benefits. Sixty percent of Samoa’s total electricity generation is expected to come from renewable energy within three years.

"Samoa's dependency on fossil fuel is an environmental and financial challenge. We must increase production of renewable energy and reduce dependence on fossil fuel and its associated costs”, said Rapa Young, solar project manager of the Electric Power Corporation, the only power producer and seller in Samoa.

UNDP works in close partnership with the governments of the Pacific region alongside other development partners, providing them with technical, normative and analytical expertise. It also assists with funding and organizational and coordination support to assist in efforts to attain development aspirations. UNDP also manages regional and national projects and programmes in the areas of democratic governance, sustainable livelihoods and poverty reduction, crisis prevention and recovery, environment and energy, and empowering women.