Tonga Power Gets its First Solar Facility with Rapid Stabilisation

Tonga’s 1MW solar facility will contribute to the South Pacific island’s clean energy goals.
Published: Mon 18 May 2015

The South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga is boasting its first solar facility- with stabilising capacitor and microgrid control system. The Nanyo Boeki Kaisha Ltd (NBK) Japanese-led consortium of contractors and project consultants has signed an agreement to mark the final completion and technical handover of the project.

1MW solar facility meets Tonga’s grid needs

The 1MW solar facility came with two sets of 500kW stabilising lithium ion capacitor banks which are similar to a very large battery, but much faster. Its quick reaction to solar PV troughs caused by passing clouds is the reason it was chosen over traditional storage batteries.

According to Michael Lani ‘Ahokava, TPL’s Power Generation Manager, this is only the second of its kind to be installed by a Japanese company and the first to be offered as part of a major project by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to any country in the world.

The project comes with microgrid control systems which are located at the Vaini and Popua generation sites to ensure that the new solar power plant can operate with existing diesel generators at the Popua Power Station.

The project handover marks the conclusion of the following milestones:

  • Site preparation and civil works

  • Electrical installation

  • Optical fibre works

  • Testing by subcontractors

  • Inspection and testing by Fuji Electric, the main contractor and on the job training

  • Handover of test reports, operational and maintenance manuals

  • Application to Tonga Power Ltd for the certificate of completion

Clean power injected into Tonga Power’s grid
As part of the project, Tonga Power will continue monitoring the microgrid system and manage the operation and maintenance requirements of the solar facility with on-going support provided by Fuji Electric.

Since December 2014, Tonga Power’s staff have undertaken comprehensive training in battery and solar technologies and onsite operational training for the project.

Robert Matthews, Tonga Power CEO said, “The plant has gone through vigorous testing since the beginning of this year resulting in the facility working highly effective and generating much needed renewable energy into Tonga Power’s grid”.

“Our generation staff now has a clear view of what is required to ensure longevity of the operating plant and equipment and my sincere appreciation goes out to JICA and the people of Japan,” he added.

Present at the project handover was the project manager from Fuji Electric, Takehiko Kojima; Yachiyo Engineering’s Hidekazu Sato; JICA’s project formulation advisor in Tonga, Shoiji Iwata; TPL’s Power Generation Manager, Michael Lani ‘Ahokava; members of the Consortium of NBK Corporation; and TPL’s Power Generation staff.

Tonga’s clean energy goals

The project was provided as a gift from the Government of Japan through JICA to assist Tonga in developing a clean source of energy to help reduce the island’s heavy dependence on fossil fuel for power generation.

The country's move to renewables started in 2008, when an oil crisis peaked just as democratic reforms swept through the islands. Imported petroleum accounted for 75% of the country's energy supply and prices were escalating at a rapid rate.

In response to the energy crisis and budget constraints, leaders set a clean energy target - 50% electricity from renewable sources within three years.

Energy aid management plan

But according to Honorable 'Akau'ola, adviser to the Tonga Energy Road Map Government Committee, the energy strategy and goals had to be revisited due to an aid management problem- Tonga had received over $50 million for renewable energy over four decades but there was no renewable power development. Over 70% percent of the funds were being injected into software and feasibility studies -- with a few rooftop solar panels.

In constructing a new energy strategy, the government took the unusual step of opening up its books to the public. It streamlined energy work that previously had been spread out over seven ministries and opened the government up to an honest assessment of weaknesses and strengths.

Most importantly, government leaders designed a new process whereby interested investors had to work according to a single plan, under a uniform set of standards, managed by the World Bank.

The new goal: a 50% reduction in diesel imports by 2020 and half of all power supplies coming from renewable energy sources by that year as well.

"When we started this process, it was very scary and extremely embarrassing for the government," 'Akau'ola said. "But the actual results speak for themselves. Where in the past we had a project developed but nobody looked at how it was going to contribute to our energy goals, now we have this definitive goal, and every energy project that we look at, we consider how it will help the 50 percent target."

With the government onboard, Tonga has managed to attract a great deal of interest from investors. These include the New Zealand and Australian governments, as well as the Asian Development Bank, and Masdar, the clean energy firm of the Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.