Renewable energy technologies relevant to Fiji

-- and their significance

The Fiji Electricity Authority aims to supply all the nationís electrical energy through renewable resources. The Monasavu Dam, which has operated since 1984, is the most important element in that strategy. It usually satisfies about half of national demand (but that can vary significantly, depending on rainfall).

In addition to the Monasavu Dam, the Authority has taken several other renewable energy initiatives in recent years:

>   a 10 MWe wind farm project at Butoni Ridge, near Sigatoka

>   a 2.8 MW hydro power station at Vaturu, Sabeto

>   a 40 MWe expansion of its hydro power program at Nadarivatu, to be commissioned soon for completion in 2011

>   feasibility studies to increase power generation from the Monasavu hydro power scheme and for new power generation opportunities downstream using the water outflows from the existing power station

>   feasibility studies for using wood waste from timber mills at Deuba and Savu Savu

>   investigation of the use of bio-fuels for use in the diesel engines at Kinoya power station.

Monasavu Dam. Its capacity is soon to be boosted by 50%.

A high proportion of electricity that Fiji generates is from renewable hydro power. Fiji is one of the leading nations of the world in this regard.

 

These initiatives will further increase the already impressively high proportion of renewable energy in the Fiji Electricity Authorityís generation profile.

Additionally, the government-owned Fiji Sugar Corporation generates significant amounts of electricity from bagasse (sugar-cane waste), including 10 MWe at Labasa on Vanua Levu.

Hydro generation

Hydro powerís enormous advantage is that it can supply base load -- large amounts of electricity at a constant output -- all day and night, every single day, 365 days a year. Other than geothermal, it is the only renewable energy technology that has that hugely important capability.

The one serious limitation of hydro is that during drought, there may not be enough water to drive the electricity generators throughout the whole year.

Water inflows to the major hydro dam at Monasavu were very low for three years from 2003 to 2006. Each month from January to July 2006, for example, inflows to the dam were below the long-term historical average for those months during the past 25 years, leading to the lowest recorded output for the power station in the past ten years. At that stage, before more rains came, the water level in the reservoir fell to only 6 metres above the safe operating level. When electricity production from Monasavu fell to very low levels during those months, the Fiji Electricity Authority had to use diesel fuel to make up the difference, at huge cost.

Cost of diesel fuel to generate Fiji's electricity, 1998 to 2008

[Source: Fiji Electricity Authority annual report 2008]

Even taking the impending increase in Monasavuís capacity into account, in an era of climate change it appears that drought may prevent Fiji from relying on hydro for much more than of half of the present electricity demand. Unfortunately hydroís capacity to power new industries will be limited.

Wind generation

When the wind stops blowing, wind turbines stop turning and generating electricity. In large countries, this may not be a problem because the wind may still be blowing in other areas where wind farms operate -- hundreds of kilometres away -- and generators at those wind farms can feed power into a national electricity grid.

However, Fiji is not a large country, and if the wind is not blowing strongly at a wind farm it may also not be blowing in other places. Wind generators typically operate no more than 25 per cent of the time.

Although they are useful to supplement Fijiís electricity generating capacity and to reduce spending on diesel fuel, wind generators cannot produce base load electricity.

Solar generation

Fiji currently produces only a few kilowatts of solar electricity.

Solar panels cannot produce electricity at night. Some solar systems can store energy, but it does not last long. Therefore, when solar generation is installed it supplements other types of generation, most usefully for peak domestic demand in the afternoon. Otherwise, it has drawbacks similar to those of wind turbines. Solar generators cannot produce base load electricity.

Geothermal

As mentioned, geothermal -- like hydro power -- can meet demand for base load. Unlike hydro power, its output is not limited if there is a drought.

In fact, geothermal power stations are at their best when meeting a constant demand for base load.
 

Geothermal is able to meet high demand for base load electricity at an almost constant output, regardless of climatic conditions. That makes it unique among renewable technologies.

This is what industry and the community needs.

The limitation to geothermal generation is that its output cannot be reduced as quickly as with diesel or hydro generation.


Steam pipes from a large geothermal field to the power station at Wairaki, New Zealand, which generates electricity for many industries.

This limitation, however, is not significant for Fiji: our main need is for reliable, high-output base load generation. Mining and minerals refining, and other major industries that can develop when electricity is cheap and reliable, need large amounts of electricity 24 hours per day.

If Fijiís geothermal resources are large enough to supply low-cost electricity on a major industrial scale, the nation can be internationally competitive in attracting industries that would not otherwise be possible.

The potential of geothermal energy should not be under-estimated. Abundant low-cost electricity can boost a nation's wealth enormously. Iceland produces almost three times as much electricity as it would need if it only had light industry and commerce like Fiji's. It has developed its geothermal and hydro power output to stimulate major industrial development. As shown in the graph, two industries -- ferrosilicon and aluminium smelting -- consume about twice the electricity produced for all other uses combined. In 2007, the export sales of aluminium alone generated $1.6 billion (Fiji dollars).

Electricity consumption by category, Iceland, 2006

Source: 'Energy statistics in Iceland, 2006', National Energy Authority, http://www.os.is

Nor should the potential speed at which national wealth can increase be under-estimated. It took only three decades for Iceland to develop from one of the poorest nations in Europe to the fifth most wealthy (per capita Gross National Income) nation in the world in 2007 -- almost entirely through using its geothermal and hydro power resources wisely.

Click for more information on the significance of low-cost power for Fijiís future wealth.

Further reading: Energy in Iceland: Historical perspective, present status, future outlook, National Energy Authority and Ministries of Industry and Commerce [Iceland], February 2004 --  http://www.os.is/Apps/WebObjects/Orkustofnun.woa/swdocument/932/
EnergyinIceland.pdf

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