Fijiís energy challenge

Fiji is one of the world's leaders in renewable energy -- about half the nation's electricity comes from rainfall. But recent droughts have reduced the supply of water to the dams that generate hydro-electricity. Although the Fiji Electricity Authority is working to increase the capacity to generate hydro-electricity, it appears that in the future the nation may not be able to rely on hydro-generation for much more than half of the electricity it needs. Although heavy rains fell in 2009, long-term changes in the reliability of rainfall will continue to cause concern, as they have in recent years.

Diesel engines power the generators that generate most of the other half of Fiji's electricity that is not generated by hydro. Ten years ago, the cost of Fiji's fuel imports (including fuel required to produce electricity) was less than 20% of the nation's domestic export earnings. In 2008 it was more than 80%. The cost of fuel is a major factor limiting growth in Fiji.

 

Fiji's fuel imports as a percentage of export earnings, 1993-2008.

Compiled from data from the Fiji Islands Bureau of Statistics [Overseas Merchandise Trade Ė Imports by SITC and Exports by SITC].

The conclusion is simple: Fiji needs more capacity to generate electricity if the nationís economy is to develop strongly, but also needs to reduce the amount of diesel fuel used.

We are fortunate that geothermal energy is potentially able to provide that capacity.

The "Saudi Arabia of geothermal energy" gives a lead

Most people know that Saudi Arabia is very wealthy because of its oil resources. But far fewer people know about the country that is sometimes called "the Saudi Arabia of geothermal" -- Iceland. In only three decades, Iceland rose from being one of the poorest nations in Europe to the fifth most wealthy (per capita Gross National Income) in the world in 2007. The main reason for this transformation is that the people of Iceland have been wise in putting their renewable energy resources to work.  99.9% of Iceland's electricity is generated from renewable sources: about three-quarters by hydro and one-quarter by geothermal resources. Only the remaining 0.1% is produced by fuel oil.


Aluminium smelted in Iceland (shown here as 25-tonne ingots at an Alcoa smelter) earned $1.6 billion (FJD) in 2007 -- 40% of Iceland's exports. Geothermal provides the huge amount of electricity needed for the smelting.

Geothermal can generate a large amount of electricity that is constantly available. That makes it ideal for powering major industries such as manufacturing, refining and mining. An example in Iceland is the three aluminium smelters to which alumina (aluminium oxide powder) is transported from up to half a world away, such as South America and Australia. The value of the aluminium produced in 2007 was $1.6 billion (Fiji dollars) -- 40% of the value of Iceland's total exports and equivalent to $5,000 for every man, woman and child who live in Iceland.

Fiji can meet its energy challenge by wisely using its gift of geothermal resources. We can tap into the same opportunities as Iceland and 20 other nations if drilling for geothermal heat  is successful and large-scale power plants can be built.
 

Geothermal generation of electricity is proven technology

In use for 100 years, geothermal supplies 60 million people in 21 countries around the world with energy totalling 10,000 megawatts -- equal to 125 Monasavu dams. And this amount is growing rapidly.

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