Tonga announces solar for Royal Palace

Tonga’s Saint George Palace to install solar panels: Symbolic of country’s aim to reach 50% renewable energy by 2020

 COP23 was chaired by Fiji and so had a focus on the impacts of climate change in the Pacific.

COP23 was chaired by Fiji and so had a focus on the impacts of climate change in the Pacific.

During an event held by Solar Head of State and the Pacific Islands Development Forum on the first day of COP23, the Pacific region’s advances in renewable energy took the spotlight. The event in the Fiji Pavilion featured speakers from the governments of Tonga, Niue, Tokelau and Palau and representatives from Greenpeace and ClimateWorks Australia to discuss the various successes of renewable energy in the region, and the benefit it is bringing residents.

The Pacific continues to demonstrate strong leadership by virtue of its ambitious renewable energy goals, including Tonga’s aim to reach 50% renewable energy by 2020. This includes a landmark 2MW solar PV system commissioned last month, the largest of its kind in the country.

In a symbolic move to showcase the island nation’s ambitious goals, Tonga announced the installation of solar panels for the Royal Palace as part of the Solar Head of State program. The installation will be the first of its kind in the Pacific as a national leader takes the personal step of use solar power for their official residence. The Tongan King will also become the world’s first monarch to use solar power.

 Delegates sign the agreement for solar on St George's Palace. From left to right: Tonga's Paula Mau'u, SHOS's James Ellsmoor and PIDF's François Martel.

Delegates sign the agreement for solar on St George's Palace. From left to right: Tonga's Paula Mau'u, SHOS's James Ellsmoor and PIDF's François Martel.

Solar Head of State Director James Ellsmoor said, “our model draws attention to renewable energy through highly visible solar installations on public buildings and associated public engagement strategies such as competitions for students and community events. High profile installations on buildings such as the Saint George Palace highlight the economic, environmental and political importance of the use of renewable energy.”

The installation of panels on the national Leader’s official residence is symbolic of the wider leadership on renewable energy by small island develop states (SIDS), and serves a physical embodiment of Pacific politician’s commitment to fighting climate change. The leader of the Tongan Delegation, Paula Ma’u, signed an agreement at the event agreeing to work with Solar Head of State and the Pacific Island Development Forum to carry out the installation.

“Our intent is to demonstrate that Tonga is serious when it comes to climate and energy. While we need a few more years to roll out renewable energy across the islands, this installation will be a mark of our greater ambition to decarbonize our economy”, said Ma’u.

Islands across the world are making headlines for ambitious renewable energy projects. The Pacific nation of Tokelau became the world’s first country to be 100% solar powered in 2012 by launching a pioneering project to ditch its diesel habit.

Tokelauan delegation leader Paula Faiva made a statement at the event highlighting the future pathways for decarbonization in her atoll nation and the importance of symbolic leadership on climate.

“Tokelau’s renewable energy project was the first in the Pacific to utilize large-scale solar and storage. We are happy to see that other SIDS are following our path, and we hope the rest of the world will take note of the work of the Pacific”, said Faiva.

 Tokelau's Climate Change Manager, Paula Faiva, talks about the success of solar in her country.

Tokelau's Climate Change Manager, Paula Faiva, talks about the success of solar in her country.

Islands typically have extremely high energy costs due to a lack of economies of scale and expensive fuel imports. On many islands, inefficient diesel generators have traditionally generated electricity. The high cost of diesel is an incentive to innovate new solutions.

From Fiji to the Seychelles to Jamaica, SIDS are launching ambitious programs to revolutionize economies through renewables, many with goals of reaching 100% by 2030. In the Caribbean island of Aruba, the goal is an even more audacious 100% by 2020.

Pacific Island Development Forum Secretary General François Martel said of the event, “we are glad to support Pacific nation leaders in their work to showcase and implement renewable energy strategies. This event is important while the spotlight is on our region, to demonstrate that we are doing our part even though we contribute negligible emissions.”

Fiji’s leadership of COP23 is a first for SIDS, and an opportunity to demonstrate the very really threats faced by these nations. Events highlighting the ambition of Pacific SIDS are a useful strategy for these nations to demonstrate that despite their low carbon emissions, they are showing moral leadership when it comes to the issue of climate change.