Tonga replaces fossil fuel with solar and improves water access

Jan 28, 2015

Well in the middle of the field: Photo credit: Ofa Sefana.

Thanks to funding from Denmark, communities in Tonga can now benefit from solar powered water pumps and improved access to water, reduced risk of water contamination and reduced dependency on fossil fuels.

So far the project has proceeded with great success. 13 pumps have been installed across the island group.  All these pumps have been tested and inspected to ensure that they are functioning properly. It is estimated that the pumps have more than halved the normal fuel and electricity consumption within the villages. Further 65 people have been trained in operating the pumps, which will ensure the longevity of the initiative and allow for safe water long into the future. The Geology Department is also currently partaking in monitoring of the water to ensure its quality. However, the move away from diesel pumps has distinctly lessened the chances for contamination through diesel spills or leaks.

“I am looking forward to communities in the Haa’pai islands being able to access safe water supplies utilising environmentally friendly technologies. This project has changed life within the villages by reducing the reliance on diesel fuels, which had to be transported to the island group. The project has also created job opportunities for local community members”, says Ofa Sefana, PIGGAREP project manager.

One of the Tongan activities under the PIGGAREP project is the installation of new water pumping systems run by solar power, which ensure safe drinking water and utilise renewable energy to pump water out of ground wells in the Haa’pai island group in Northern Tonga. Water wells, from which water is extracted using diesel engines or grid electricity, is the primary source of water for human consumption in Tonga. Remote villages, such as those in the Haa’pai island group, are heavily dependent on ground water. However to access this ground water and to transport it through the villages, pumps are necessary. Approximately 80 per cent of the water pumps currently in use are diesel powered pumps. A further 11 per cent are run by electric motor driven pumps and the final 9 per cent are solar powered water pumps.

Solar energy, an abundant resource within Tonga, which for approximately 70 per cent of the year experience sunny days, is a sustainable renewable energy source for purposes such as water supply for rural areas. It will replace the current diesel and electrical pumps with environmentally friendly and cost effective solar PV powered well water pumping systems.  The project is also focused on generating employment opportunities in rural communities, while also ensuring hygienic and affordable water supplies in each rural community.

 Technicians and the contractor (right) during the commissioning. Photo credit: Ofa Sefana.

According to one local villager the new pumping systems have “allowed our village to enjoy not only clean and hygienic drinking water, but also ensure our self-reliance through the use of renewable energy. The sun has always been a part of life in the Pacific and it is fantastic that we are now able to further embrace its potential.”

In collaboration with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), the Global Environment Facility and the United Nations Development Programme, and as part of the Pacific Islands Greenhouse Gas Abatement through Renewable Energy Project (PIGGAREP), Tonga is leading the way in reducing reliance on fossil fuels. The project is a regional project with activities in 14 countries around the Pacific. The goal of the project is reducing emissions from fossil fuel use in the Pacific Island Countries through removing barriers to renewable energy technologies.

This project is not the only regional project that is working towards ensuring water safety and sustainability within the region – also the Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change Project (PACC) is working for this goal. Under the PACC it was decided to focus on the district of Hihifo in the north-western part of the island of Tongatapu. This district suffered from a lack of a reliable water source and with the increasing variability in rainfall and potential droughts the issue worsened. Thorough socio-economic surveys were carried out in order to understand the issue thoroughly. Through this it was found that the thin lense of water was becoming more vulnerable due to natural, governmental issues such as a lack of community involvement in the management of the source, as well as technical issues such as the breaking down of pumps. Thus, under the project three 45,000 litre tanks, a 22,500 litre overhead holding tank and 30 smaller tanks were installed in each of the six villages within the district. Further monitoring and production boreholes were drilled. These activities have been of great value to the villages who enjoy a much more stable and sustainable water supply.

As one local matai described, “through this project we have been able to protect one of our most important natural resources, with modern and sustainable technologies which will be of huge benefit to the village.”


Article by Thomas Gillman, UNDP Samoa MCO Intern.

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