The site

Vaitupu is one of nine remote islands that makes up the nation of Tuvalu in the South Pacific Ocean, and is now home to the largest diesel-solar photovoltaic (PV) hybrid electricity system in the South Pacific.

With a total land area of 5 square kilometres and a population of 1,600, Vaitupu has a low population density of 320 per square kilometre. About half of the population lives scattered in the villages of Tumaseu and Asau (the main village); the balance lives at the Motufoua secondary school compound, the location of the PV project.

At the request of the Tuvaluan Ministry of Public Utilities, Energy and Industries, the project was established under the consultancy of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program and International Union for Conservation of Nature. The project was funded primarily by the Italian Government.

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The technology

The system consists of an AC-coupled off-grid systems from SMA Technology, Germany, equipped with 9 x Sunny Island 5048 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 272 x ERA Solar 185 watt panels and was installed by Australian-based company eco-Kinetics.

Training

To assist to the local community in operating the system, an eleven-day training program was conducted jointly by eco-Kinetics 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.

Environmental impact

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.

Success of the project to date:

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.

Future outlook

Tuvalu has already indicated its intention to install more systems of even greater size on another island in the nation, based on the same technology.