Manono Island could herald a new era of solar and hydropower use in the region, if a project by two award-winning engineers, gets off the ground.
Falefa-born Nicc Moeono is designing a micro grid to power Manono Island with entirely renewable energy.
Mr. Moeono and his research partner Graham Marshall are Bachelor of Engineering students from the University of Waikato in New Zealand. With their joint interests in solar energy and hydropower, the pair is creating a power system that uses both.
The project – only a theory for now – is a hybrid system using seawater pumped hydropower, complemented by a set of solar panels, Mr Moeono explains.
The solar panels would generate energy during the day, and charge batteries when energy demands were met. At night, seawater would be pumped up and down two reservoirs to generate electricity through turbines. And importantly, the system is small.
“The pumps, turbines, generators, pipes, everything is on a micro scale. That’s where the term micro grid comes into play,” Mr Moeno explained.
Seawater pumped hydro has never been using in the southern hemisphere before. It’s is a concept that was trialled in Japan in 1999 and eventually dismantled in 2016. Taking lessons from that experience has helped drive the research.
“One of the big things we learned from Japan is that it was too big,” Mr Moeono said.
“There were a lot of uncertainties which led to economic unfeasibility to maintain the system, and the initial cost was greater than the revenue and overall the cost of electricity was not what they calculated.”
But a micro grid makes the concept affordable, and sustainable for islands all around the Pacific.
“One of the visions I see is that smaller islands that are isolated, with smaller communities living on their own, can have these small micro grid systems that are easier to maintain,” said Mr Moeono.
Solar panels require little to no maintenance, and if the communities are vigilant inspectors of the grid there should be no serious issues, he believes.
“With the components, the batteries, inverters, converters, chargers, they are all set to be a standalone system, meaning that they don’t require maintenance. There are sensors, so if there is too much power the system can look after itself.”
The system, which uses an elevated seawater reservoir and a sea level reservoir, manages to create a hydropower system where, like on Manono Island, there is no natural water reservoir like a lake, river or waterfall. The solar panels remove the need for diesel, something Mr Moeono is passionate about.
Samoa is trying to be powered entirely be renewable energy in six years, and he believes his project could help get it there.
It might be slow going but with enough funding, and a meaningful consultation process he thinks it could work.
“I know everything in Samoa everything is really slow and what can be done in a year in New Zealand could take a year in a half or two in Samoa.
“I think that if we are just talking about Manono it is possible to be established before 2025 if we get funding, approval of the chiefs on Manono and if we get other implementations confirmed.”
Consultation that specifically addresses the complex cultural requirements in Samoa is not part of the Bachelor training program. Mr Moeono said he wants to work differently to international contractors or consultants.
“I would approach it differently to how other engineering firms from overseas built power stations,” he said.
“They come and leave, and if something happens it’s like oh who do we call to fix it if everyone is unqualified here.
“The first thing is building a relationship with the chiefs, the villagers and the people on Manono Island. It’s about sustainability and empowering the residents on Manono Island.”
Addressing complexities around ownership of customary or family land, adequately and fairly compensating any families affected by the building of any plant and keeping the people of Manono on board with the project are all important, Mr Moeono said.
“It’s a little complicated, and I hope I’m prepared for that when I finish university, for that knowledge and complex process of who owns lands, doing site evaluations and making sure that the land foundation is good enough.”
According to Mr Moeono, the hybrid system he is designing could produce a couple of hundred kilowatts of energy, enough to sustain Manono which on an average month consumes approximately 16 thousand kilowatt hours.
Investing his research hours and energies in renewable energy is about contributing to his country, Mr Moeno said, and inspiring young, potential engineers to dream big.
“For the upcoming students in school, look towards a future where we can do better. Look towards a world where we can live in a clean green world where we are fully sustainable.”