A structural shift is taking place in the Pacific islands, as countries move away from fossil fuels in favor of more climate-friendly forms of energy.

In many ways, the move toward renewable forms of energy plays to the Pacific islands’ natural advantage.

There are two factors behind this transition. First, only two of the region’s 15 countries—Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste—have proven fossil fuel reserves. That means the region has relied largely on imports of fossil fuels to keep the lights on, which, owing to its isolation, has been costly and inefficient. And second, while the region itself is not a large emitter of greenhouse gasses, the ever-increasing threat of natural disasters in the Pacific places an extra emphasis on reducing carbon emissions as much as possible.

In many ways, the move toward renewable forms of energy plays to the Pacific islands’ natural advantage. The region is rich in renewable energy resources with potential for hydropower in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Vanuatu; and potential for solar, and, to a lesser extent, wind, a strong renewable energy possibility throughout the region.

Renewable generated electricity, which doesn’t require expensive transportation of diesel over long distances, is a natural fit for the Pacific.

Renewable generated electricity, which doesn’t require expensive transportation of diesel over long distances, is a natural fit for the Pacific.

ADB’s approach for the Pacific has three levels: promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy, maximizing access to energy for all, and promoting energy sector reform, capacity building, and effective governance.

From 2007 to 2018, ADB approved financing for projects that will install 62 megawatts of renewable generation capacity, constructed or refurbished more than 1,600 kilometers of efficient transmission and distribution lines, and connected more than 10,000 households to electricity grids.

TRANSCRIPT: Renewable Energy 

Four Big Questions with Anthony Maxwell, ADB Pacific Department's Principal Energy Specialist.

Q: How important is renewable energy to the Pacific?

A: Renewable energy is critically important to the Pacific islands. The Pacific islands for us, we have 15 developing member countries, they have really good renewable energy resources. They’re well endowed with good wind power, good solar power, and good hydro power. So renewable energy allows them to make a break from using diesel generation; most of the systems at the moment are diesel based. It allows them to make a break from that dependency. By the time you trans-ship diesel all the way to the Pacific and then trans-ship it to the smaller grids, it’s very expensive. So it allows them to break that linkage and move toward a more sustainable economy.

Q: What are the benefits of renewable energy?

A: There are a number of benefit to renewable energy. The main ones we see in the Pacific are lower costs. So it’s much cheaper to generate power using renewable energy than it is using diesel. So that brings down the cost of power for the people in the Pacific islands, which is really important from a social benefit, but also from an economic benefit. Secondly, you see benefits through greenhouse gas reductions. And thirdly, good, cheap renewable energy options allow the Pacific islands to expand the reach of the electricity grid. So you get more people with more electricity in their homes.

Q: What are the big challenges the Pacific faces in developing cleaner energy?

A: There are a number of challenges that the Pacific faces. Firstly, you’re looking at the financing gap. It is very expensive to move from just having single diesel generators to having new solar plants, new hydro power plants, new wind farms. So the financing gap is something that is a big barrier. And it’s something that ADB is supporting at the moment. Secondly, is the capacity. We’re moving from a situation where you have a single generation source to having multiple generations of renewable energy. It’s complicated to bring them back onto the grid. But, having said that, the Pacific utilities are very rapidly gaining experience in managing that multi-modal renewable energy source.

Q: How is ADB helping to develop renewable energy in the Pacific?

A: ADB’s main way of supporting is through financing, but we also do a lot of technical assistance. The technical assistance component is very important, and that’s things like making sure the tariffs are adequate, making sure there’s reform in the utility if it’s required, making sure the acts and the laws are in place before we get to the procurement system. So it’s helping with that upstream support. At the moment we have 14 projects worth around $400 million across 11 countries. So they’re projects that have been implemented at the moment. Moving forward, we’re looking to about double that support over the next two years alone. So we are seeing a massive increase in the requests from the Pacific to help them with renewable energy projects. So there, we’re talking about projects which we’ve either supported now or are supporting in the future. Things like solar and battery projects in Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau. So quite a few countries. Hydropower projects in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Samoa. Wind farming in Federated States of Micronesia. And we’re also looking to help waste-to-energy projects in Marshall Islands. Combining all those together, they should have a significant impact on reducing the cost of power in the Pacific. And also helping the Pacific islands moving toward more of a sustainable future.

In Federated States of Micronesia, ADB financed new wind, solar, and high-efficiency diesel power generators.

In Tonga, ADB spearheaded a solar power project providing 6 megawatts of power to the country’s outer islands.

And in Samoa, a project is underway to build or rehabilitate the country’s hydropower infrastructure, which in 2012 was damaged by Cyclone Evan. As of 2018, ADB’s loan and grant portfolio for energy in the Pacific consisted of 14 projects totaling $371 million, with plans to roll out more than $1 billion in energy investments between now and 2021.

These investments will help make safe and reliable electricity available to more people in the region—where more than 8 million have no access to electricity at all—and reduce the cost of electricity to consumers, who pay some of the highest rates in the world.