Pitcairn Islands Looks To Renewables

In this guest editorial Jacqui Christian, Pitcairn Islands government’s European Representative, outlines plans to move to renewable generation.
Published: Mon 29 Jun 2015

Pitcairn Islands with its population of 46 people currently has electricity generated by diesel generators. Diesel is imported quarterly from New Zealand along with other supplies. Pitcairn is currently on budgetary aid from the UK Government Department for International Development (DFID), which sets the unit costs for electricity to the consumer. The current rates are set very high to cover the electricity generation costs for such a small community. To compensate the community has opted for electricity to be shut off during the night to help to keep electricity bills down, resulting in electricity being on for just 15 hours per day. This currently limits global communication and small business development opportunities.

It is hoped that renewable energy provision of electricity to the island will bring the unit costs to the consumer down and decrease the use of fossil fuel and imports to the island, as well as have the island doing its bit to contribute to the Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT) European Union (EU) environmental targets in using renewable energy sources.

Renewables for the community

During the past 35 years there have been small and successful wind and solar generation projects operated by individuals both in private homes and at the Pitcairn weather station, but nothing has been set up for the whole community. Recently the EU and OCT governments agreed that the Thematic Programme of the 11th European Development Fund be spent on renewable energy and climate change issues. Over the next 5 years the OCTs will engage in a common sustainable energy strategy to significantly increase the penetration of reliable and affordable renewable energy and increased energy efficiency in their islands.  

Pitcairn depends largely on tourism for its annual income with fishing, honey and dried fruit production for sale also important income sources. Peak electricity demand is currently approximately 100kW, although this allows only limited business activities. Over the past 5 years demand has increased at an average 11% per year. With the population expected to increase significantly in the next 5 to 10 years in line with sustainability goals and the encouragement of developing private sector activities, demand is forecast to grow 10-fold in this period.

The current energy infrastructure on Pitcairn comprises a power station with three generators engaged on a rotational basis with a net capacity of 110kVA and a simple transmission network. Annual diesel consumption varies between 40,000l and 60,000l.

Renewable energies a priority in OCTs

Pitcairn, being located in the South Pacific Region, works with its neighbours, New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna, all having identified renewable energy as a key sector priority. French Polynesia and New Caledonia have already set up some renewable energy systems and have expertise which will prove invaluable to Pitcairn as it works through the process.

Local capacity in the OCTs is to be strengthened through the development of technical partnerships in the area of research projects and applications, including innovative sustainable energy technologies. Education to raise awareness to reduce energy consumption by promoting energy efficiency in both supply, demand and development of a suitable business model for integrating renewable technologies into the generation mix are challenges to be solved with small populations with capacity issues.