Energy Transition

The small island states making big strides towards 100% renewable energy

Ambitious large-scale energy projects are afoot in Pacific small island states.

Ambitious large-scale energy projects are afoot in Pacific small island states. Image: Unsplash/Ibrahim Egan

Michelle DeFreese
Project Development Specialist, Pacific Community (SPC)
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This article is part of: Annual Meeting of the New Champions
  • Small island developing states in the Pacific – including Fiji, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands – contribute only 0.03% of global greenhouse emissions but are committed to achieving net zero by 2050 and 100% renewable energy by 2030.
  • While deploying renewable energy projects faces significant challenges such as high costs, logistical issues and legal setbacks, these islands have been progressing through blended finance, innovative solutions such as microgrids and international funding.
  • The transition to renewable energy in these small island states offers numerous benefits beyond reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These include increased energy security, reduced reliance on fuel imports and insulation from fuel price volatility.

The Pacific contributes an estimated 0.03% of global greenhouse emissions. Nevertheless, increasingly, large-scale renewable energy projects have been developed, specifically adapted to the unique challenges of small island developing states in the Pacific.

Deployed projects have increased, leading to utility-scale renewable investments in wind, solar and hydro energy throughout the region. These projects have been made more feasible through the reduced cost of several technologies, blended finance combining private and public resources and strong political will to transition to renewable energy resources.

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Renewable deployment in the Pacific’s small islands

Pacific small island developing states have committed to achieving net zero by 2050 and 100% renewable energy targets. For example, Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands have a 100% renewable energy transition target by 2030. Overall, renewable energy capacity in the Pacific has increased by 30% between 2014 and 2022.

These small island states have committed to increasing the overall capacity of renewable energy and embarking on projects of a larger scale. Motivation for the energy transition includes wide-ranging impacts in the region, including economic benefits from increased energy security, reduced reliance on fuel imports and insulation from fuel price volatility.

However, the roll-out of renewable energy projects in Pacific small island developing states faces several challenges. The cost-effectiveness of these projects is often a barrier to mobilizing the resources needed to fund utility-scale renewable energy facilities in the Pacific. Due to their location, longer procurement timelines, additional logistics required and shipping costs often hamper efforts to donors to rationalize the costs of implementing projects.

Furthermore, adaptation needs are increasingly urgent, particularly for vulnerable communities facing rising sea levels and recurrent cyclones.

In addition, the increase in renewable energy capacity has faced several setbacks in the region. A large-scale, 42 megawatt (MW) wind farm valued at $100 million in American Samoa, originally expected to be commissioned in 2024, was ultimately shelved due to legal challenges. A 19.75 MW, $55 million instalment of wind turbines planned for Fiji has also been stalled pending the results of an investigation.

Pacific island country fuel imports 2017-2018. small island states
Pacific island country fuel imports 2017-2018. Image: Pacific Community/Datawrapper

Energy independence

Despite these challenges, entire islands have become energy self-sufficient by installing renewable energy facilities. In American Samoa, a microgrid solar facility amounting to 1.4 MW on the island of Ta’u was used as a proof of concept for low-carbon energy self-sufficiency designed for the unique challenges presented by renewable energy installation and operation in the Pacific islands.

In Tokelau, diesel imports were reduced by 80% upon the shift to renewable energy, primarily through the installation of 45 kilowatt (kW) solar plants on three atolls, which were funded by the Government of New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

On a larger scale, utility-sized projects that aim to support the transition to 100% renewable energy resources have been developed. These include a $20.8 million solar and battery energy storage system in Palau and the $241.9 million Tina River Hydropower Development Project in the Solomon Islands. The Palau solar project includes a 15.28 MW and 12.9 MW battery energy storage system and is currently considered the largest solar and storage project in the Western Pacific.

The combined solar facility and battery storage will supply an estimated 20% of Palau’s energy demand and was financed through the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific.

The Tina hydropower project will contribute 49,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2eq) per year and mitigate an estimated 2.48 million tCO2eq over 50 years. The project was approved by the Green Climate Fund in 2017 and combines a $70 million loan and $16 million grant with additional co-financing from the Asian Development Bank, the Economic Development and Cooperation Fundof the Export-Import Bank of Korea, the International Renewable Energy Agency, Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, the World Bank and the government of Australia.

The projects will contribute 30.28 MW of low-carbon electricity generation capacity in the region. Both Palau and the Solomon Islands have historically relied on fuel imports (representing 13% of Palau’s gross domestic product and 6% of the Solomon Islands in 2019) and have committed to decarbonizing the energy sector. The achievement of utility-scale renewable energy investments was feasible through debt and equity financing, concessional loans and strong political will.

Installed capacity of Pacific small island developing states, 2019.
Installed capacity of Pacific small island developing states, 2019. Image: Pacific Community/Datawrapper

Structural transformation of small island states

An analysis of the costs of transitioning Pacific small island developing states to 100% renewable energy resources has estimated that eight Pacific Island countries meet their energy demand requirements through investments totalling $691 million to $1 billion.

Despite their small size compared with other investments in the wider Asia Pacific, these initiatives can potentially achieve structural transformation of smaller, emerging economies in the Pacific. The growing adoption of renewable energy in the region is accelerating partly due to increasingly ambitious, large-scale projects.

Fewer greenhouse gas emissions are just one outcome of the region’s large-scale deployment of renewable energy. From increased energy security to decreased vulnerability to fuel import price fluctuations, the benefits to Pacific small island developing states will be many.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of any institution or organisation.

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