Energy officials from government departments and power utilities from six Pacific Island nations gained practical knowledge and shared experiences in an effort to boost micro-hydropower production in the region.
Micro-hydropower systems present an opportunity for certain fossil-fuel dependent Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) to supply local-grid electricity to remote rural areas, while reducing their reliance on expensive fossil fuels and mitigating their contributions to climate change in an environmentally sustainable manner.
According to last year’s World Small Hydropower Development Report, PICTs are currently harnessing only one-third of their hydropower potential to produce electricity; the combined small (plants of up to 10 MW each) hydropower potential for PICTs is estimated to be 306 MW, of which 103 MW have been developed to date.
To help increase micro-hydropower production in the region, a three-day training workshop for energy policy makers was held in Nadi, Fiji, from 24-26 September 2014. Participants included 14 energy officials from government departments and power utilities from the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
The workshop provided an opportunity for country participants to learn more about the technical, financial, socio-economic, policy, and environmental aspects of investing in micro-hydropower, and to share their experiences and learn from each other. The participants also had the opportunity to conduct a site visit to examine an existing 100 kW micro-hydropower system in Bukuya village, situated in the interior of Viti Levu.
Micro-hydropower systems typically produce between 10 kW to 100 kW of electricity and generally have limited environmental impacts compared to larger-scale hydro projects or fossil fuel based energy plants.
“In the Pacific Islands, we live in limited and fragile ecosystems and it is important that our hydro development plans are made according to our situation,” said Mr. Anare Matakiviti, Energy Programme Coordinator at IUCN Oceania, during the opening of the workshop.
Land and community involvement issues, high construction costs, lack of financial sustainability, and limited local technical capacity were some of the key barriers to hydropower development that were identified by the workshop participants.
Participants agreed that community endorsement and participation were essential to the success of any hydro project in the region.
“A project will only be feasible if the community is fully invested,” said Sala Sagato Tuiafiso, the Assistant Chief Executive Officer of the Renewable Energy Division for the Ministry of Natural Resource and Environment in Samoa.
For ensuring the financial sustainability of projects, setting and collecting suitable tariff rates was noted to be important, regardless of whether the hydropower systems were financed through grants or loans.
“Community understanding, agreement, and adherence to tariff structure is key to financial sustainability,” said Mr. Michel Maupoux, Technical Director of Green Empowerment and the lead instructor of the workshop.
Hydropower projects lie at the intersection of the water and energy sectors, and poorly planned schemes can have adverse impacts on the biodiversity and ecosystems of the waterways where they are located.
“In suitable locations, micro-hydro plants can provide clean and sustainable energy with limited environmental and social impacts. However, larger plants can have significant impacts, and all plants must be meticulously planned to maximize benefits and minimize adverse impacts,” said Dr. Ambika P. Adhikari, VOCTEC program manager and Research Professor at Arizona State University.
This workshop builds on previous renewable energy trainings and is part of continuing efforts to enhance the range of skill-sets used in energy planning and policy development throughout the region. The workshop was conducted by the Vocational Training and Education for Clean Energy (VOCTEC) Program in cooperation with IUCN Oceania. The VOCTEC Program is funded by USAID and is led by Arizona State University in partnership with Appalachian State University and Green Empowerment.