Rays of Hope: Renewable Energy in the Pacific Islands
From the beginning, nature provided energy. In the Pacific islands – as elsewhere in the world – the use of nature’s energy enabled people to survive and flourish. Wind provided the power for sailing into and around the region. Biomass was used for cooking. Crops and fish were dried under the sun. Oil lamps and fires gave light.
During the last hundred years, however, new sources of energy were introduced: petroleum-based products to fuel the growing numbers of cars, trucks and boats for transportation, fossil fuels to provide much-needed electricity. Increasing use of fossil fuels has had far-reaching consequences, including pollution, sea-level rise and climate change and a burdensome impact on recurrent household and national budgets.
Recognition of the negative implications of imported fossil fuels led in the late 1970s to a ‘first wave’ of projects in the Pacific for harnessing sources of renewable energy fuels, with mixed results. More recently, in the early 21st century, there is a new surge of interest and commitment, towards increasing the proportion of renewable energy use in the total primary energy supply.
It is within such a context that Rays of Hope was conceived and prepared, as a joint initiative of UNESCO and its programmes in the Basic and Engineering Sciences and the Fiji-based communications firm PASiFiKA, in cooperation with a range of national and regional bodies in the Pacific.
The video and accompanying booklet* combine generic information (e.g. history of renewable energy in the Pacific, new energy sources, environmental concerns, energy dependence, renewable sources of energy, types of renewable energy) with interviews and project insights drawn from several countries of the region.
- In Kiribati, for example, solar panels are being used as a power source for rural health centres and remote radio-telephone sites.
- In Fiji, a village cooperative is running a small-scale hydroelectric project for providing electricity for over 200 homes in a settlement deep in the interior of the country’s main island.
- In Papua New Guinea, a hybrid renewable energy system (involving wind turbines and solar panels) provides an independent supply of power to a highlands school.
- In Samoa, a medium-scale hydro-project in Afalilo on the capital island of Upolu has resulted in a switch in the energy supply feeding a hydro-electric power plant, from 20% hydro and 80% diesel to 80% hydro and 20% diesel.
- In the Cook Islands, coconut oil is being used as fuel in a normal diesel engine, and has been used in Vanuatu to fuel buses, taxis and other vehicles, as well as generators that power a hydroponics project. Given that nearly every Pacific island country has a large supply of coconuts, the fact that diesel engines and generators can be run on coconut oil holds exciting possibilities for the future of renewable energy in the region.
* UNESCO. 2003. Rays of Hope. Renewable Energy in the Pacific Islands. UNESCO, Paris. The video is available in three versions – a TV broadcast-quality version (27 minutes), a teaching and learning version (90 minutes) and a ‘trailer’ version (90 seconds). The 32-page booklet is designed to support the video, and is also a stand-alone document. [More]