Technology, policy and business models are not enough to get Samoa to its goal of being 100 percent renewable by 2025.
Dr. Adam Warren, a director at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (N.R.E.L) in the United States, is in the country to hold discussions with stakeholders in the energy sector when he made this statement.
Dr. Warren said the energy sector needs to get everyone on board in order to make the change.
In his line of work, Dr. Warren focuses not only on the technology behind renewable energy, but the policies and cultural attitudes necessary to make renewable changes stick.
“The policy, technology, business models, those are necessary but they are not sufficient to make a change,” he said.
“To make a change it needs to be a broad spectrum of society that says ‘we want to make this change and it’s worth our time and effort and funding to do it’.”
In the different island nations Dr. Warren has worked in, N.R.E.L. works behind the scenes to provide data to, and support local organisations develop their energy sectors alongside the community.
An in-depth understanding of policies which have succeeded or failed across the Pacific is a core skillset he brings to his meetings in Samoa.
“Policy is critical. The power system is defined by the rules. We define who can put electricity on the grid, who can take it off the grid that is all policy. We define what we value in the creation of electricity, do we value renewable, efficiency; that is all policy.
“Policy is a way for society to say this is what we value and here is what we do.”
Dr. Warren said the size and capacity of island nations makes them the perfect leaders for the rest of the world in becoming 100 percent dependant on renewable sources of energy.
The island of Ta’u in American Samoa recently completed its seven-acre solar power plant, which now provides 100 percent renewable energy to its population of between 200-600 people
Today, instead of relying on an unreliable source of more than 400,000 litres of diesel, Ta’u runs entirely on their solar plant, which was installed by Tesla (then SolarCity), and funded by the U.S. Department of Interior and the American Samoa Power Authority (A.S.P.A.) to the tune of USD$8 million (T$3.03m).
That too can happen here, said Dr. Warren.
“What Samoa needs is flexibility.”
Renewable energy fluctuates according to the elements. A strong windy afternoon or a morning under the beating sun can pack the power plants full of energy that doesn’t necessarily need to be used all at once, while a still or cloudy day changes the supply of power.
That’s where storage comes in, to enable power utilities like Samoa’s Electric Power Corporation (E.P.C) to use the power when they need it, not just when it is there.
Diesel generators are often used in the interim, and Samoa is looking at replacing that with biomass, or burning green waste, but batteries or hydro pumps can also be used.
In his visits with relevant ministries and the National Energy Coordination Council, Dr. Warren said he has been impressed with the seriousness in the sector to move to having entirely renewable energy.
“They have a very detailed understanding of the challenges of meeting that 100 percent goal and have several active routes,” Dr. Warren said.
“I know they are actively pursuing wind, pumped hydro, developing additional hydro resources and of course solar and those are going to be the mixes required to achieve this goal.”
There is not one renewable energy solution to ensuring Samoa can leave diesel behind, but rather a combination of wind, solar and water power are needed.