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New Zealand welcomes Tokelau as world's first solar powered nation

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13 November 2012

New Zealand Thursday welcomed the launch of Tokelau's first solar power system, part of a project that will make the tiny Pacific island the world's first solar powered nation.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said the system was the first of three solar power systems that, when fully operational, would provide almost 100 percent of Tokelau's power.

"Many of our Pacific neighbors are reliant on expensive imported diesel for electricity generation and this is a barrier to developing their economies," McCully said in a statement.

"We are committed to supporting the roll-out of renewable energy technology in the New Zealand territory of Tokelau and the wider Pacific.

"The Tokelau Renewable Energy Project will see a solar-based mini-grid constructed on each of Tokelau's three main atolls. The first one on Fakaofo Atoll becoming operational is a major milestone in the project."

New Zealand company Powersmart was working on the project with IT Power Australia, the government of Tokelau and the New Zealand Aid program.

"New Zealand is advancing 7 million NZ dollars (5.7 million U.S. dollars) to Tokelau to fund installation of the systems," McCully said.

According to New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE), Tokelau's diesel generators would be replaced with 4,032 solar panels, generating 1 megawatt of solar energy, 392 inverters, and 1,344 batteries each weighing 250 kg.

At present Tokelau's diesel generators burned around 200 liters of fuel daily 2,000 barrels a year shipped in from New Zealand at an annual cost of 1 million NZ dollars, and giving Tokelau's population of 1,400 only 15 to 18 hours of electricity each day, NZTE reported on its website.

The solar power system, designed to survive cyclone force winds of 230 km per hour, was due to go live in late in September and would provide 24-hour electricity, meaning Tokelau would only need fossil fuel for its fleet of three cars.

The solar power plant was spread across Tokelau's three atolls - Fakaofo, Nukunonu, and Atafu and would provide 150 percent of the nation's current electricity demand, allowing Tokelauans to expand electricity use.

During periods of prolonged cloud cover, generators that ran on coconut oil would supply power and simultaneously recharge the battery bank.

Tokelau, which has a land area of just 12 square km, is a self- governing nation in free association with New Zealand, meaning New Zealand provides citizenship to its people and other administrative assistance.

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