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Pacific islands go 100 percent solar

Tokelau's islands, a territory of New Zealand, are going on a sun-juice diet, and Crave's Eric Mack is jealous.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Contributing editor Eric Mack covers space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
Eric Mack
2 min read
Now visitors to Nukunono Resort won't be disturbed by the roar of diesel generators. New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs

I can relate to the energy woes of folks in the Pacific island nation of Tokelau (technically a territory of New Zealand), and I'm a bit jealous of their solution.

Tokelau and the roughly 1,500 residents of the coral atolls about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand have become the world's first completely energy-independent territory/nation/whatever, thanks to a solar energy project that's just been completed with funding from the New Zealand government.

"Until now, Tokelau has been 100 percent dependent upon diesel for electricity generation, with heavy economic and environmental costs," New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said in a news release from the government.

When I lived in a remote rural Alaskan village, we faced a similar situation, with all diesel fuel and gasoline flown or barged in to heat homes and run vehicles at ridiculous expense -- prices for a gallon of unleaded can be double or even triple what's seen in the lower 48. You'd think the Land of the Midnight Sun might be a great place for solar energy, except for winter months when it becomes the land of nearly no sun.

So let's hope the folks of Tokelau appreciate how good they've got it, being able to ditch those noisy, stinky generators for a photovoltaic alternative that's a little more reliable closer to the equator.

Samsung had a similar idea recently with its solar-powered South African school project, as did the U.S. Department of Defense. The Navy plans to deploy a half billion dollars worth of solar power systems on its bases in Hawaii that could eventually dwarf the Tokelau project.

Not to be outdone, the nearby island nation of Tonga says it's aiming to get 50 percent of its energy from renewables by 2015, and the Cook Islands are shooting for matching Tokelau's achievement by 2020.

As for me, I've ditched Alaska and have a solar panel on my portable reporting trailer for tooling around the Southwest and West Coast, not to mention a handful of solar calculators in a drawer somewhere. Looks like I'm going to have to up my game if I want to show my face in the South Pacfific by the end of the decade.