|Solar panels powering the remote island of Tokelau|
I recently embarked on a journey that led me to indulge in long haul flights and regrettably a bigger carbon footprint. Ironically, as I was sitting on the plane, contemplating the impact I was having on the environment, I found something quite compelling in the inflight magazine. Amidst the glossy pages of models and actors brandishing the latest perfumes and clothing, I came across a section explaining how the airline was contributing to different environmental projects and organisations. Amidst the two page spread dedicated to sustainable efforts, there was one article in particular that caught my attention. “The world’s first solar powered territory” it read. Intrigued by the idea of this sustainable haven, I read through the article and later went on to investigate the project a little more through my fervent Google searches.
The remote islands of Tokelau are found in the South Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and Hawaii. The islands are comprised of three atolls Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo and are part of New Zealand territory. Recently, in November 2012, the installation of major solar panels in Tokelau was completed. These solar panels have been shown to provide enough solar energy to meet the electricity needs of the islands. It seems that previous to the introduction of solar power to generate electricity for the islands, imported diesel was the primary source of fuel having heavy costs on the environment as well as on the pockets of the local population. For the 1500 islander inhabitants, the move from expensive fossil fuels to solar energy has freed up a lot of money that can now be used for social welfare and other necessary expenses contributing to the wellbeing of the population. The fact that this very real and substantial method of sustainable living has been successfully implemented in these islands is quite an uplifting story, in particular, for me who has recently been exposed to the very real and harrowing consequences of environmental neglect. However I also had to ask the question; what impact do these small islands have on the rest of the world? Will other countries follow suit in the renewable energy efforts? Well, encouragingly, I found that Samoa, Tuvalu and the Cook Islands are planning to follow in the footsteps of Tokelau by 2020 by also getting all electricity from renewable energy sources. From there, my curiosities lead me to review some of the other global efforts for renewable energy projects. It seems that the blueprint and the intentions are in place for a lot of the bigger nations, but the financial cost of developing the projects overshadow the very apparent long-term benefits. However these South Pacific Islands are the pioneers and advocates for true sustainable living and hopefully the rest of the world is closely watching.