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Tuvalu is a group of nine tiny islands in the South Pacific which won independence from the United Kingdom in 1978. Five of the islands are coral atolls, the other four consist of land rising from the sea bed. Formerly known as the Ellice Islands, all are low-lying, with no point on Tuvalu being higher than 4.5m above sea level. Local politicians have campaigned against climate change, arguing that it could see the islands swamped by rising sea levels. Life on the islands is simple and often harsh. There are no streams or rivers, so the collection of rain is essential.
Coconut palms cover most of the islands, and copra – dried coconut kernel – is practically the only export commodity. Increasing salination of the soil threatens traditional subsistence farming. On this basis, the United Nations, in particular, Italy funded a $1M renewable energy project on one of the outer islands, Vaitupu. Vaitupu is the largest of the nine islands and houses a large technical school called the Motofua School. Prior to Enertech Solar installing the solar hybrid system, the entire Island and school was powered by old diesel generators, this was soon to change. We carried out a detailed site survey and put together a fully automatic hybrid system utilising, solar panels, batteries and a diesel generator for back up.
The system consists of an AC-coupled off-grid system from SMA Technology, Germany; equipped with 9 x Sunny Island and 6 x Sunny Mini Central 8000TL based on 3 banks of 4500Ah FLA batteries each at 48V from BAE, Germany. The PV system consists of 46kW of solar power mounted on bespoke aluminium football stand in order to provide a secondary use.
To assist to the local community in operating the system, an eleven-day training program was conducted jointly by Peter Libretto and SMA Solar Technology Australia.
This included theoretical training in the basics of PV systems, system sizing and technology of hybrid systems, as well as practical components of installation, safety, commissioning and data collection. In addition, the system will also contribute to the education of the Tuvaluan population.
After one month of operation by the Tuvalu Electricity Corporation (TEC), data gathered from the system shows that it will replace the use of approximately 46,000 litres of diesel per year, saving the community up to $65,000 annually.
The hybrid 46 kilowatt (kW) system has dramatically changed the school community’s lifestyle. Prior to the instalment of the system the school relied upon a generator to provide power, which needed to be turned off during the night. Now, the school has a 24-hour supply of energy, with up to 200 kW per day.