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Kiwi Company To Turn On The Power For Remote Tongan Islands

New Zealand renewable energy company Infratec and sister-company NETcon have won a joint bid to deliver solar powered electricity networks for remote outer islands in Tonga.

The project will bring affordable, reliable, and clean energy to the 1000 people living on the isolated islands of O’ua, Tungua, Kotu, and Mo’unga’one in Tonga’s Ha’apai group and Niuafo’ou in the northernmost Niua group.

Infratec Chief Executive Greg Visser said the project will be transformative for communities on the islands.

“Because of their remoteness, many of the homes on the islands have historically had little to no electricity,” Greg Visser said.

“These are significant infrastructure projects for Tonga and the Pacific in general. What we are talking about is bringing off-grid communities up to the same level of electricity access as the mainland.”

The NZ$15 million project means building solar/battery power plants, and fully-fledged distribution networks including wiring individual households and community buildings.

“For the first time, the islands’ residents will have access to electricity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In New Zealand the ability to switch on the lights, or refrigerate our food is often taken for granted, but in off-grid communities, these actions represent a step change. Delivered well, these projects can bring lasting impacts for the communities, which we’ve seen first-hand from our similar work in the Cook Islands, Indonesia and Afghanistan.”

The project is part of the Tonga Renewable Energy Project, which aims to achieve 70% renewable energy for Tonga by 2030. Its goal is to increase energy access — sustainably and affordability.

“It will be one of the most complex projects Infratec has been involved with: four of the islands are accessible only by boat (some only at high tide); the terrain ranges from just above sea level to an active volcano; the islands have limited or no transport (except for the occasional bicycle!); and limited accommodation and food supplies.

“Our delivery model is to bring as much benefit as possible to the communities we are working in — including employing and training about 40 local people in the construction phase and ensuring we include women in that, with a target of 30% women on the team.”

The JV partners will also deliver an HIV/Aids prevention programme on each of the islands, and will be designing and building the mini-grids to future-proof against extreme weather conditions including tropical cyclones, and projected rising sea levels.

“The community benefits will be transformational: We’ll be giving people new work opportunities and skills; and the access to affordable and reliable energy is expected to open up new opportunities for small business development and household income-generating activities, improve education outcomes due to lighting and communication services in schools, empower women (who typically receive proportionally higher benefits from increased access to energy) and help to stem population loss from the islands.”

“We feel privileged to be working on a project that will deliver such meaningful benefits for these isolated communities, and would like to acknowledge the leadership of our partners in the project, the Asian Development Bank and Tonga’s Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Climate Change and Communications (MEIDECC), as well as our JV partner NETcon.”

The project is administered by Asian Development Bank and funded by the Green Climate Fund, Asian Development Bank, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Tongan Government.

With Covid-19 restrictions in place, Infratec will look to commence initial site works (clearing and survey) using local resources. Infratec engineers are kicking off the design working remotely in New Zealand.

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