Cook Islands | Taking a chance by taking a stance

Aug 18, 2015

Cook Islands is aiming to be 100% renewable energy powered by 2020. View from the northern part of the site on Palmerston Island, Cook Islands. Photo credit: Ben Meade.

Imagine a small island - an atoll in truth, thirty-six hours by fishing boat from the capital and main island, and an island at the forefront of change. This small atoll is called Palmerston Island and it, along with all the atolls and isles that make up the Cook Islands, have taken a stance and made the decisions to be 100% renewable-energy-powered by 2020. 

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in partnership with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), has assisted the Cook Islands to achieve this important goal through the ‘Palmerston Island Solar PV-electrification Project,’ part of the larger on-going regional Pacific Island Greenhouse Gas Abatement through Renewable Energy Project (PIGGAREP) project. 

The government of Denmark is the donor of the project. 

 The new street lights will make getting around at night safer. Photo credit: Ben Meade.

Palmerston Island is located in the Southern Group of the Cook Islands. It has a total land area of 2.6 km squared, a lagoon 11km across and can only be accessed by boat.  

The project has installed a solar system for the community to ensure that the atoll has access to reliable and renewable energy, also reducing reliance on fossil fuels. In total 210 solar panels of 255W capacity were installed on island. These were divided into five ground-mounted sub-arrays with 42 panels on each. 

These systems will generate approximately 260kWh of energy every day, charging the battery bank and meeting the energy demands of the households and businesses on island. As solar panels can only produce energy when the sun is out, it is important to also ensure energy storage. In order to store the energy on Palmerston Island, a power shed with 96 lead-acid batteries of 3000Ah cells were installed with a total capacity of approximately 500kWh. A back up 32kWh diesel generator was also installed and will supplement the solar energy when necessary. 

As one local community member mentioned, “The power of the sun has always been known to the people here, but to be able to harness it in this new way will be of huge benefit to our local community.”

The installation process was completed in May 2015. Prior to this, thorough research was done to understand the environmental impact of the project, the costs and benefits as well as gender and youth impacts. 

 The local community members were heavily involved with the installation process itself and high school students from the local school were engaged with the process as a form for short term work experience. Photo credit: Ben Meade.

The installation process was completed in May 2015. Prior to this, thorough research was done to understand the environmental impact of the project, the costs and benefits as well as gender and youth impacts. 

This work was carried out by CAT Projects Australia funded under PIGGAREP, for the Office of the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands. CAT Projects also provided independent monitoring and evaluation as well as quality assurance throughout the installation aspect of the project. 

Powersmart NZ provided the technical and design aspects and did the installation of the solar systems. They were assisted by McConnell Dowell who supported with related civil works.  Top Energy installed new household switch boards and LED street lights and the household upgrade was carried out by the local electricians seconded by the Office of the Prime Minister from Mangaia, Atiu and Mitiaro. 

The local community members were heavily involved with the installation process itself and high school students from the local school were engaged with the process as a form for short term work experience. 

The project has allowed local households to monitor household energy use and reduce their consumption and electricity bills. 

“The new street lights will make getting around at night safer. Basic maintenance tasks of the solar power system also provide local energy workers with a small amount of additional unskilled work/employment,” highlights Ben Smede of CAT Projects. 

Lizbeth Cullity, UNDP Resident Representative, is excited about the solar developments in Cook Islands. “It is an important lesson for us all to see the way in which nations such as the Cook Islands, which has many logistical issues, is leading the way in terms of engaging adaptation and mitigation methods which will ensure a sustainable future for many generations to come. We could also all learn something from the very impressive and ambitious goal of the Cook Islands in substantially reducing dependency on fossil fuels and the actions that they have taken towards achieving this goal.” 

The Director of Renewable Energy Development Division, Tangi Tereapii, is proud of the achievements of this project: “It shows that the Cook Islands is at the forefront of change, that we are showing the way and will hopefully inspire others.” 

Indeed, many Pacific Island countries, such as Samoa, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu to mention a few, are taking similar measures as the Cook Islands, by embracing renewable energy technologies such as bioenergy, wind and solar. 

The Cook Islands government also acknowledge the just finished regional project PIGGAREP that really paved the way for the preparatory part of getting project scoping and design missions to the remote islands.  It was a costly exercise and it has paid off with the New Zealand Government coming on board to take the full capital investment for the friendly island of Palmerston.

UNDP Around the world

You are at UNDP Samoa (Multi-country Office) 
Go to UNDP Global