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Renewable Energy - A key to addressing Climate Change

Facing the full brunt of climate change, Fiji is not wasting any time in exploring nature-based solutions to address this phenomenon. Making the transition from using fossil fuels to renewable energy is among the options on the table.  

Well equipped with a broad mix of renewable energy resources, including hydropower, solar, biomass and wind, Fiji has the potential to venture into producing clean and renewable energy therefore reducing our carbon emissions, even though our emissions are miniscule in comparison to the highly industrialised countries.

The Fijian Government is determined to meet its objective of ensuring that all Fijians have access to reliable electrical power by 2021, to have 100% renewable energy by 2036, and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Additionally, as a founding member of the International Solar Alliance (ISA), Fiji continues to call on major carbon-emitters – the highly industrialised nations - around the world to accelerate their transition towards renewable energy sources.

At the national level, efforts to transition into renewable energy and to achieve Fiji’s net zero emissions target are being supported by the renewable energy power plant at Nabou in Sigatoka.

Nabou Green Energy Limited General Manager, Richard Kashyap said since the plant’s establishment in August 2017, Fiji’s transition into using renewable energy is beginning to pick up pace.

“We need more awareness on the importance of transitioning into using clean or renewable energy compared to our reliance on fossil fuels and more work needs to be done if we are to meet international targets such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in particular SDG 7,” Mr. Kashyap said.

The SDG 7 ensures that by 2030, there will be universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all - access to clean, modern, sustainable energy is critical for improving the health and livelihoods of billions of people around the world where there is growing evidence linking socio-economic benefits with access to a reliable and affordable supply of electricity.

“We need to educate Fijians in the communities to know that using renewable energy will help reduce our carbon emissions which in turn will help reduce the impacts of climate change,” he said.

Being Fiji’s first major Independent Power Producer (IPP), the company operates a 12 Mega Watts biomass plant located in Sigatoka and with the assistance of various stakeholders, they have been supplying green energy to Energy Fiji Limited (EFL) on the national grid.

“With Government’s help we managed to sign a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with EFL to supply them green energy for a period of 25 years. We mostly use wood waste from the forest, off cuts and waste from saw millers and other fuel woods to meet this agreement.”

Depending on the moisture content of fuel wood, the biomass power plant requires an average of 300 tons of fuel wood to be processed daily, 2100 tons weekly or 9000 tons monthly in order to supply green energy to EFL.

Mr. Kashyap said they are working in collaboration with the Fiji Pine Group of Companies, Fiji Pine Trust, Fiji Hardwood Corporation Limited, and landowners for the daily supply of fuel wood.

“We are very grateful that the Fiji Pine Group of Companies is now supporting us by selling waste-wood from their chip mill at Wairiki in Bua,” he said.

“We are also working with the Ministry of Forestry who, together with the iTaukei Lands Trust Board, assisted us in securing land to plant the fuel-wood trees that we use at the plant.”

He said the Company in turn is also helping out with Fiji’s tree-planting revolution. On Wednesday 3 February 2021, Mr. Kashyap along with the Ministry of Forestry’s Director Operations in the Western Division, Maleli Nakasava presented a cheque of $1500 to the Lololo Women’s Group who have been potting seedlings for the company’s tree-planting drive.

“By replanting trees, we are also contributing to the national tree planting revolution of 30 million trees in 15 years – a target set by our Prime Minister Honourable Voreqe Bainimarama at the Climate Change Summit in New York in September 2019,” Mr. Kashyap said.

He said some of the women involved in their tree-planting drive were laid off from their jobs due to COVID-19.

“While empowering the nation to transition to clean or renewable energy, the company is also empowering Fijians economically,” Mr. Kashyap said.

 Renewable Energy Prospects in the Pacific

The Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Policy Brief on Renewable Energy and Sustainable Development in Pacific Island Countries 2016 stated that Pacific Island Countries (PICs) need to improve intra-regional labor mobility, reform state-owned enterprises and perhaps, most important of all, invest in renewable energy development to fight climate change and rid their reliance on fossil fuels that cause a substantial drain on their gross domestic product (GDP) annually.

The report stated that Pacific Islands Countries are generously endowed with hydro, solar, wind and other renewable energy resources, renewable energy production will not only save costs on oil imports but could also help development of small businesses, social enterprises and critical public goods (e.g., hospitals, schools) that require cost-efficient and reliable power supply.

It added that attaining renewable energy is a serious challenge for the 15 PICs as they share a population of 9.9 million of which 7.5 million live in Papua New Guinea while the rest are scattered among the remaining countries including Tokelau, the smallest with an area of 12 square kilometers.

The geographically small sizes of many PICs and the limited number of economic enterprises that heavily depend on fossil fuels make the PICs acutely susceptible to oil price shocks. Fuel imports for the PICs are worth 10% of their GDP, except for Fiji, for which it is 14%. Subsequently, most of the PICs suffered greatly during the oil surge in 2007/08 with prices spiking at $147 a barrel at one point.

Such volatility in prices of oil and oil-based commodities has prompted the PICs to invest in renewable energy projects to stabilize their economies and reduce their vulnerability to global economic fluctuations. Vanuatu, for instance, has led the way with its National Energy Road Map, which was launched in April 2014 to secure 100% renewable energy in the next 15 years. The road map focuses on five key issues in the energy production sector: access, petroleum supply, affordability, energy security, and climate change

Fiji’s journey into renewable energy

According to the ADB Policy Brief, one of the biggest PIC economies - Fiji currently spends 17% of its GDP on oil imports to produce electricity to power domestic consumption and its energy-intensive mining and construction industry. However, 20% of its rural population still lacks access to electricity. Following the 2008/09 financial crisis that severely drained its economy, Fiji planned greater investments in renewable energy projects to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. Hydropower now serves as the main source of energy but is susceptible to seasonal variation and extreme weather cycles besides being expensive to operate. The report stated that to stabilise the electricity supply and make it affordable, Government is diversifying its power-generation capacity.

Most of the PICs have largely untapped resources of renewable energy that require substantial public–private investments to fully harness their potential. The recent push for acquiring 100% renewable energy by the Cook Islands, Fiji, and Vanuatu should serve as an example for other PICs to emulate and alleviate their power consumption shortage through clean energy projects

Fiji has set itself a target of achieving 100% renewable electricity generation by 2030.

Permanent Secretary for Forestry Pene Baleinabuli said there is a need for the stakeholders involved in the energy sector to strengthen collaboration to achieve this national goal.

In the meantime, the Ministry of Forestry has set up a taskforce comprising of mainly the stakeholders in the forestry sector to oversee the planting of trees that could be used for renewable energy. The trees include Acacia Mangium, Gliricidia Sepium or Bainicagi, Raintree or Vaivai, and Pine, among other species. Most of these species are being planted within the 50-kilometre radius of the Nabou Green Energy Limited.

Mr. Baleinabuli said the Ministry has coordinated the planting of more than 411 thousand fuelwood trees over 37 hectares in the past two years. It plans to invest more time and energy into this programme. He acknowledged the Nabou Green Energy Limited, the Fiji Pine Group of Companies, Fiji Hardwood Corporation Limited, iTaukei Lands Trust Board, and the Fiji Pine Trust for their collective efforts to help Fiji make the transition into renewable energy.

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