The new panels, which have a total capacity of 750 kilowatts, are expected to go live in early June. Located on a vacant piece of land adjacent to the power station, they will enable Aitutaki Power Supply (APS) to derive 25 per cent of its energy needs from renewable sources. The array is located in a vacant section adjacent to the APS station.
“Twenty years ago we were thinking about this,” says Long Tuiravakai, who has been with the power station since 1983 and became its manager in 1996. “We were always planning for this. We knew then that solar panels, inverters, and storage would be improving, getting cheaper. Twenty years ago, we couldn’t afford it but the concept was always in our minds.”
The Renewable Energy Division at the Office of the Prime Minister, often referred to as RED, is managing the solar-farm project and the Cook Islands Investment Corporation is helping to co-ordinate all its moving pieces, including the longer-term thinking about revenue management and maintenance of the assets. APS, a state-owned enterprise that receives no government budget, owns the project over the long term.
“We’ve come a long way,” Tuiravakai reflects. “We’re actually getting somewhere. This will make APS more sustainable.”
Presently APS imports 100,000 litres of fossil fuels a month. The capacity of its current solar array is projected to eliminate the need for 250,000 litres per annum.
The second phase of the project, which will involve the installation of over 1 megawatt of additional solar arrays, should allow Aitutaki to derive over 60 per cent of its energy needs from renewable sources.
Stage two will be scoped shortly after stage one is operational. The station’s ultimate goal is to derive 100 per cent of its power from renewable sources; this is expected to occur at the conclusion of stage three, which will require considerable investment in battery storage infrastructure. A comprehensive update about the project will be forthcoming.