Solar’s the way forward

A hydro dam. The author says we are reaching the end of our hydro-electricity potential because of the ever increasing demand. Picture: SUPPLIED

A hydro dam. The author says we are reaching the end of our hydro-electricity potential because of the ever increasing demand. Picture: SUPPLIED

A RENEWABLE energy specialist believes Viti Levu has enough sunlight to generate between 20 megawatts to 25 megawatts of solar energy which is about 20 per cent of the required energy to power the whole of Viti Levu.

Dr Atul Raturi, an associate professor in physics at the University of the South Pacific, has been heavily involved in solar energy projects in mainly rural areas throughout our islands.

Dr Atul said the Fiji Electricity Authority hydro plant was a good initiative but the huge demand meant we would need to be looking for new sources of energy.

“Fiji has been too reliant on hydro, and it has been good all these years, but now the demand is growing, and hydro cannot be expanded because we are close to reaching the limit, so we need to get other sources.

“We have biomass coming in, at Sigatoka (FSC is doing that), but then a large proportion can be covered by solar.

“Ten to 15 per cent of the total grid can be used without any fuel,

“The only thing is we spread it out, we don’t put it in one place, because the weather pattern varies in different parts of Fiji, so if you spread it out, if it’s going down here, another area like Lautoka is peaking. So there is no reason why Viti Levu cannot have 20MW to 25MW of solar.”

Dr Atul said it was important to note that solar energy was worth every cent that had been invested.

“You can see there are companies putting up big solar systems like RB Patel, even Coca-Cola has their solar system. If there were not any benefits, these companies would not have gone to solar.

“So we have to make sure that we explain to people that climate change mitigation is one thing but then they will ask why should we invest money. But if we can show them that it is income-generating and can save you money, everyone can all go for it. In that way we are cutting down greenhouse gas emission and we’re also cutting down our bills.

“If you set up a solar system in your house, within six or seven years you get that money back, because it is guaranteed for 20 years. So these things are possible.”

Dr Atul said the 45 kW grid being installed at the USP campus was a classic example of saving money and saving the environment.

“USP has a 45 kW grid connected system at its Marine campus. This is one of the first two GCPV systems in Fiji. This system produces about 54,000 units of electricity per annum.

“This can satisfy the needs of about 40-45 small households in Fiji.

“This system reduces USP’s carbon footprint by about 27,000 kg CO2.

“Fiji has huge potential for incorporating solar PV into the national grid. Companies like Sunergise are already installing MW sized systems (Coca-Cola Amatil).

In calculation, one litre of diesel emits 2.6391 kilograms of carbon dioxide, therefore, for USP, energy usually powered by more than 10,000 litres of diesel has been supplied by its solar grid.

Dr Atul said it would be possible to set up a 20MW grid across Viti Levu, any grid much higher than that would be a huge task.

“Viti Levu requires about 150MW so say if we create a 20MW grid which is possible.

“What I am saying if we bring in too much of solar, without any storage, then the fluctuation might disturb the grid, so what we can do is bring it in slowly.

“Say if we bring in 20 per cent of the total at the moment, so you don’t need much intervention, that will be OK, but if you want to increase further you will need to bring in some storage and have to be more careful, but what I am saying 20MW that is possible and can be easily done. If you want to increase further then you have to be more careful, because like I said if you go more than 30 per cent, you will have to have the facilities to take care of it all.

“The important thing people need to understand and we encourage them to know is how solar can help them and how it can be useful, it’s not only about lighting a small system but solar systems can save us.

“Monasavu is 80MW, India has set-up a 100MW solar system.

“There is no limit, and Fiji has the potential, even if it takes for us to loan or seek grants but because it will save more money, we know it will be profitable. It is cheaper than solar, why not go for it, it is worth investing in.”

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