Energy efficiency gains will cut diesel consumption, lower generation costs, and help Nauru reduce CO2 emissions.

Aiwo, Nauru — For local businesses and households in the Pacific island state of Nauru, frequent power outages and high electricity costs have always been a challenge.

Nauru is one of the smallest, least populated, and most isolated nations in the world. Just over 11,000 people live on only 21 square kilometers (km) of land. Its nearest neighbor is Kiribati, 300 km away.

“Our food went bad because of long hours without refrigeration. Power outages caused some of our electrical appliances to malfunction.” 

Ernest Stephen

Power has been available, but voltage fluctuation and power outages would frequently halt production and damage equipment. Food spoiled due to a lack of power to run cold storage. Local businesses had trouble managing their costs, never knowing when the next outage would hit.

Households suffered too. “In the past when electricity was unreliable, our food went bad because of long hours without refrigeration,” says Ernest Stephen, Director of Foreign Affairs, Government of Nauru. “Power outages caused some of our electrical appliances at home to malfunction.”

Power was supplied by Nauru Utilities Corporation (NUC), the country’s only power utility, using poorly maintained 40-year old generators that led to higher diesel consumption and low energy efficiency. High generation costs were passed on to consumers, many of whom couldn’t afford to pay so they went without electricity.

A turning point for Nauru

Earlier this year, Nauru’s power outlook improved dramatically when the government installed two new energy-efficient, medium-speed 2.9-megawatt diesel generators. The work was completed under the Nauru Electricity Supply Security and Sustainability Project, which was approved in 2014 with initial grant funding from the Asian Development Bank and the European Union, and later supported with additional funding from the governments of Australia and Nauru.

In addition to the generators, the project has repaired the powerhouse roof in Aiwo District and provided technical upgrades for electricity distribution by replacing an 11-kilovolt switchgear to mitigate system losses. Functional switchgear is critical to ensure efficient distribution of electricity.

Given Nauru’s remoteness and lack of infrastructure, delivering the hardware was a logistical challenge.

The generators, manufactured in India by a German company, took four months to reach Nauru by ship. The 70-ton machines caused traffic jams—a rare event on the island—on their way to the power station.

“We can see a lot of improvement since the new generators arrived,” says Beniana Foilape, a grandmother who lives with her family of eight in Boe District. “Power outages are less frequent and the power station company tells the public when there’s going to be power outage. We can now plan.”

Twenty-five year old Itema Moses says fewer outages make him feel safer at night. When the place is dark, it is easy for crooks to think of something bad to carry out like stealing,” he says.

Fewer outages, lower generation costs

With the generators now up and running, the power grid will become significantly more reliable, giving consumers access to a more affordable supply of electricity. Widespread blackouts will be a thing of the past, and Nauruans will no longer need to rely on backup generators.

Power outages are expected to drop to less than two days a year by the end of 2018, from 47 days in 2015. The average number of power interruptions is expected to drop to one every eight days, compared to at least one a day in 2015.

Energy efficiency gains from the new generators will slash diesel consumption and lower overall generation costs. NUC estimates the project will reduce Nauru’s diesel imports by 16%.

During peak electricity usage periods, NUC reports the new generators have produced a 156% increase in power generation, which means they are producing three times the amount of power to households, compared to the capacity of the old generators.

More people have chosen to connect to the power grid since the project began. Currently, NUC has 3,164 grid connections compared to 2,175 in 2015. This is a 46% increase.

Importing less diesel supports the government’s ambitious goal under the Nauru Energy Road Map of reducing fossil fuel consumption to 50% of the energy mix by 2020, thereby helping to reduce emissions of CO2.

“Power will be cheaper, more reliable, and cleaner,” says Emma Fan, Regional Director at ADB’s Pacific Liaison and Coordination Office in Australia. “The project will contribute to a more sustainable quality of life for all Nauruans.”

Reforms to strengthen power sector

The next step is to ensure generators are properly maintained so they can benefit the country for a long period of time.

“Unhampered by frequent outages, businesses are free to be more productive and plan better. They suffer from fewer machine breakdowns and operate at lower cost.” 

Pivi Indrawansa

NUC staff are now being trained on equipment maintenance, customer service, and sustainable operations, with support from an ADB technical assistance grant. The grant is also supporting the government as it embarks on energy sector reforms focused on organizational restructuring, institutional strengthening, and tariff restructuring.

Nauru continues to struggle with a range of economic challenges. But as it celebrates half a century of independence, it can move into the next 50 years with an affordable, reliable power system that can spur economic development.

“Unhampered by frequent outages, businesses are free to be more productive and plan better. They suffer from fewer machine breakdowns and operate at lower cost,” says Pivi Indrawansa, Senior Project Officer (Infrastructure) at ADB’s Pacific Liaison and Coordination Officer in Sydney.

“People will be able to do household chores and school work faster, be more comfortable and healthy and keep their communities safe.”

Learn more about ADB’s work in Nauru.