Solomon Islands enables Internet with solar power

Feb 4, 2015

Solar panels on hospital roof at Kirakira, Solomon Islands. Photo credit: Ben Smede

Can you imagine a day in the office without Internet or access to emails? This is the reality in many Pacific Islands states. Now Solomon Islands is changing this – through solar power.

Telecommunications technologies have generated huge advancements in recent years. Not only can people now access all sorts of apps, the Internet, emails and the like right at their finger-tips. The levels of communication has changed the efficiency of important social structures such as hospitals and railway systems, even the way in which governments function through increasing their scope, capacities and effectiveness.

However, such levels are not current within many countries around the world. It is especially the case in Oceania for countries such as the Solomon Islands. The Solomon Islands is a nation that is made up of a large number of islands covering 28,400 square kilometres. The wide spread nature of the nation makes it difficult for local governments to stay in touch with their counter-parts. Thus communication technologies are of extreme importance. The Government has realised this issue and began to implement measures to increase capacity. The Government installed VSAT internet equipment at each provincial office as a part of the Solomon Islands Government Rural Internet Project and the Pacific Community Rural Internet Connectivity System project.

The main goal of the Solomon Islands Government Rural Internet Project was to provide broadband communication and ICT capacity building to 21 provincial government centres, 54 Government Offices, and 300 Government workers. Provincial government staff spoke of their excitement at being able to be connected to the other provincial governments through high quality and sustainable forms of communication. One staffer noted that, “it is imperative for our work that we are able to communicate with not only our own staff but also with the capital and the international community. The way world is heading we all need to be able to access the Internet, emails and skype regularly but our previous lack of equipment has hampered such an ability.”

 Buala Isabell island Hospital with solar panels in the middle, Solomon Islands. Photo credit: Ben Smede.

A challenge was the source of energy that could generate the power for the VSAT service. Currently, in many villages where VSAT systems are installed, there is limited or no source of energy, or fossil fuels, such as diesel, are utilised to meet the demands. The Government wants to increase reliability of power access and reduce costs.

This is where the current project, SOI Solar PV for Telecommunications that is funded by Denmark and SIDS DOCK as part of the Pacific Island Greenhouse Gas Abatement through Renewable Energy (PIGGAREP) Project, comes into its own. The project funds the installation of solar power as a sustainable and renewable source of energy, which can be utilised to generate the required energy. In this case solar PV systems will be installed to generate power for the existing VSAT’s. To begin with the solar PV systems will be installed at the provincial government offices in Tulagi, Buala, Gizo, Kirakira, Taro, Tingoa and Lata. Creating such an energy source is of key importance to these communities because of their isolation. It is crucial that the provincial governments are able to assist their citizens in the most effective and efficient manner possible and thus this project and the increase in communication and ICT technologies will not only benefit the government offices but also the citizens which they serve. The solar powered VSAT systems will also improve the service that the provincial governments can offer and begin to break down the barrier of isolation that affects these islands.

As one local staff member said, “once these systems are up and running we will be able to deliver public services in a much more timely and efficient manner. We can also utilise the communications possibilities that it will generate to create more capacity within each of the provincial offices.”

The project will be assisted in the implementation phase by both the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP) and UNDP, with the key goals being; (1) the reduction of reliance on fossil fuels to operate telecommunication systems in rural centres and (2) reducing the operational costs (particularly energy) for telecommunication systems equipment. The ground work was prepared by CAT projects, and Sunlabob, a Lao company, will carry out the installations and will start work in February. Completion is expected in July 2015.

 

Article written by Thomas Gillman.

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