Technical Articles

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Stand-alone solar systems for remote fisheries in the Pacific

In 2013, GSES was engaged by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) to produce designs for two remote fisheries centres in Kiribati and Tuvalu. There are many of these centres distributed throughout the Pacific to support the local fishing industry, which often constitutes a large portion of the local economy. These centres administer fishing permits, monitor fish stocks and provide cold storage and ice to fishermen. Currently, the sites in question are powered by diesel generators, which are supplied with fuel from the nearest main island by fortnightly supply ships. This provision of energy is expensive, as diesel must be shipped from Australia to the Main Island, and then out to the remote fisheries centre. Switching to a renewable supply of energy will therefore reduce overhead costs and increase the viability of the centres.

Nukulaelae Fisheries Centre.

GSES was contracted to complete site assessments and calculate the energy requirements at each site, and then to design a suitable photovoltaics (PV) system with battery storage and a diesel back up to meet all loads. The final report on the project also included the required tender documents for the supply and installation of the recommended system.

To gain a thorough understanding of the energy requirements, GSES initially planned to measure and record the operations from both fishery centres. However, owing to several pieces of failed equipment, neither centre was fully operational; onsite load measurements were not possible. The information therefore had to be sourced from interviews with staff and nameplate ratings of equipment. From this information, GSES had to develop an approximation of system requirements, which (along with radiation data) was used to size the PV array, battery bank and diesel back-up generator.

At least the sun was working as planned!

The Pacific region presents a unique set of challenges: primarily, transport is extremely difficult; island locations are dispersed and often do not have enough land for airstrips. As the islands tend to have a small population base and they are not on main tourist routes, transport options are limited, with many flights leaving only once a week and supply boats to the outer islands operating only once a month. Communication between islands as well as with other countries is also difficult. Although most places have mobile phone networks, the capacity of these is limited and the costs are high. In some cases, the main form of communication with the outer islands is still by radio.

As well as affecting scheduling, transport issues have an impact on technical decisions for Pacific island projects. In addition to obvious technical challenges, such as the high-salinity environments, weather conditions and limited infrastructure, limited transport means that maintenance and repair of equipment is difficult. If there is a failure in a critical piece of equipment, it may be several weeks before a technician is able to get to site to attend to the problem, and then several more weeks to receive the required replacement parts. For this reason, it is important to design redundancy into the system to reduce the severity of a single failure, and remote monitoring should be included to detect problems as soon as they occur.

GSES has a long history of projects in the Pacific, including the establishment of the Sustainable Energy Industry Association of the Pacific Islands (SEIAPI), of which Geoff Stapleton, Managing Director of GSES, is currently the acting secretary. Through SEIAPI, guidelines for PV installation have been developed, and GSES regularly conducts grid-connected PV design and installation training throughout the region.

As the price of renewable energy continues to decrease, the Pacific is moving from grids and stand-alone systems powered by diesel to systems powered by PV and wind. This will greatly reduce energy costs to the governments of the Pacific Island nations and allow them to invest money in other projects and requirements. An environmentally friendly energy supply is also philosophically important to people of the Pacific, as the effects of climate change and rising sea levels are increasingly obvious in these regions.

Another day, another sunset.

We welcome your comments and opinions! Please feel free to write to us at info@gses.com.au, with ‘GSES May newsletter: Pacific’ as the subject.

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