Sunday, March 27, 2011

Article: Tonga leading in the fight for Energy Security (Tonga Chronicle)

Cleo Paskal's article on energy security in Tonga appeared in the Tonga Chronicle. It starts:
THE earthquake in Japan is a heartbreaking human tragedy. It is also a clear indicator of the interconnectedness of global energy infrastructure, and could affect energy prices here in the Kingdom of Tonga. Luckily, Tonga has a plan in place that could lead the world in finding solutions.
But first the problem. Once the damage to the Fukushima nuclear plant was obvious, global oil prices reacted quickly. While price is also affected by events in the Middle East, speculators seem to be assuming that, with its nuclear power generation impaired, Japan will have to import more oil and gas. And so prices looked up.
If the disaster causes a global rethink of nuclear power (already Germany seems to be moving away from nuclear and China is cautious), this could cause a long-term rise in oil and gas prices – something that is not good for a country like Tonga where close to 100% of the electricity is currently diesel generated.

Additionally, around the world we are seeing energy infrastructure increasingly being disrupted by environmental change (sea level rise, subsidence, lowering river levels, changing storm activity, etc.).
For example, in Europe, the summer of 2003 was unusually hot. Many of the French nuclear power stations are cooled by river water.
But, in 2003, the rivers were so warm, they couldn’t be used to cool as normal. That caused the powering down or shutting off of 17 French nuclear reactors. It cost the French utilities hundreds of millions of dollars to buy (fossil fuel generated) power from neighbouring countries.
This ‘anomaly’ happened again in the summers of 2006 and 2009, again causing powering downs at French nuclear facilities. According to the UK government research, due to climate change, by 2040, it will be ‘commonplace’ for European summer temperatures to reach 2003 levels.
Environmental change is affecting other energy generation sectors as well. Some dams in India are producing less power as a result of shifting monsoons. And sections of oil and gas infrastructure along the U.S. Gulf Coast are suffering repeated shutdowns due to flooding, hurricanes and subsidence (hurricane Katrina alone destroyed over 100 oil and gas platforms in the U.S. Gulf).
When a large component of energy production is knocked out (a nuclear plant, a major dam, a critical oil platform, etc), that loss needs to be made up somewhere else, and the current default is by buying more fossil fuels on the global market.
And that can drive up prices.
These physical disruptions are compounded by speculation in the market. The result has potential to fluctuating global oil and gas prices wildly, making economic policy development in a heavily diesel-dependent nation like Tonga very difficult.
So what the government of Tonga is doing is implementing the Tonga Energy Road Map (TERM), which has as its initial main goal to reduce diesel imports by 50%. This will be done through efficiency calibrating and shifts to renewable energy. But its real innovation is the way it manages the relationship with donor partners.
It used to be that energy projects would enter the Kingdom piecemeal – a solar array in a village, some panels on a school, etc. But what the Kingdom needed was a comprehensive rethink of its entire energy system (from generation, to distribution, to use), and the funding to implement the resulting recommendations.
The TERM spent a long time with experts doing the analysis. Now it is due to work with donors in an innovative coordinated fashion to provide the on-the-ground solutions. Rather than dealing with each donor separately, all donors will coordinate through the World Bank to avoid duplication and ensure coordinated action.
It may seem like nothing is happening in the energy sector in Tonga, but it may just need a little more patience. The groundwork is being laid. The next two years may produce some exciting results.
The approach of sector-wide rethink, coupled with donor coordination on a large scale, caught the eye of major partners, and has made the TERM a template for others to follow.
It has also catapulted Tonga into the heart of innovative thinking around renewable energy. The new International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), based in Abu Dhabi, has recognized Tonga’s contributions by making it a member of all working groups and Chair of the Legal Committee.
The importance of the TERM to domestic economic development and stability, and Tonga’s growing international role in renewable energy policy will be evident next week when a high level delegation from Tonga, including the Lord Prime Minister, Lord Ma’afu, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and the Crown Prince, attends the first General Assembly of IRENA.
In a world where volatile energy prices can wreck economies, the Kingdom of Tonga seemed to be working hard to create an environment where stable economic growth is possible. The next couple years will show whether the plan will succeed. If it does, Tonga may soon become just as well known for energy

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