Tuvalu turns to solar energy – against rising seas

July 20, 2009

With a highest point 4.5 metres above sea level, the Pacific island state of Tuvalu plans to shift to generate all electricity from renewable energies by 2020, hoping to push other countries to follow suit to fight global warming.

These solar panels (left) on the main soccer stadium in Funafuti, the capital, are the first step in the plan to end dependence on fossil fuels and slow climate change blamed for pushing up world sea levels. Tuvalu’s goal is to generate all electricity from wind, solar and other green sources.

By contrast, European Union nations have among the most ambitious goals among developed countries, aiming to get 20 percent of all energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Tuvalu’s plan – story here - will cost more than $20 million and will require a lot depend heavily on aid from abroad. That’s a big cost for each of the atolls’ 12,000 citizens - $1,666 – but can have other benefits such as avoiding tanker spills from imported oil.

And the plan sounds to me exactly the sort of ”measureable, reportable and verifiable” actions to offset climate change that are being demanded of developing nations in U.N. negotiations on a new climate treaty due to be agreed in December.

The Maldives in the Indian Ocean have set an even more ambitious goal of becoming the first “carbon neutral” nation over the next decade. The archipelago plans to shift to wind and solar power and buy carbon credits to offset emissions from tourists flying to visit its luxury vacation resorts.

So if Tuvalu or the Maldives can go green, so can others?

(Photo credits: e8 group of 10 utilities from the Group of Eight industrialised nations who backed the installation of the solar panels)


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why do we only ever hear of solar and wind power when there are other forms of green energy worth developing – e.g. from sewage and from ocean waves?

Posted by barrie hesketh | Report as abusive

Above sea level? As a Dutchmen can I just state, they shouldn’t worry?
My country will be happy to provide skilled engineers (for a fee ofc) that can make about 50% of your country exist below sea-level.
As proof of concept we can provide umh, well our country! :P

Aren’t these islands volcanic? Why don’t they use geothermal instead of wind driven bird choppers and solar panels which will be pounded into junk with the first storm? Green is great but shouldn’t they also consider pay-back shown on the business model, which is — never.

Posted by Ima Beleafer | Report as abusive

Twenty million is barely even pocket change for a developed nation. Obviously Tuvalu doesn’t need that much electricity so they are ideal to become a model of green energy on a national level. The separated nature of the islands also points to the strengths of solar power, being its ability to be used in a decentralized manner.

I agree with Barrie that we should look at other types of green energy though I guess that wind and solar power are the most obvious ones for tropical islands (they were the ones mentioned by the Tuvalu government in a statement): wave power is a good idea but it seems hard to build system that don’t break up in storms, etc?
And I like your offer, DerBart — the Dutch should make a fortune advising how to keep nations going even below sea level. But I’ve read that it’s hard to build sea defences for coral atolls like Tuvalu; the corals crumble too easily under extra weight. Maybe the Dutch have a solution to that too…

Posted by Alister Doyle | Report as abusive

So if Tuvalu or the Maldives can go green, so can others?

Not if everyone else needs to borrow the same level of money! Whilst $20 million isn’t much when it comes to developed nations’ spending plans, scale that up across the entire Pacific and it would be another story.

Having said that, if the Pacific islands could be greened without the inhabitants feeling that they had to pollute everything to within an inch of its life first, just as developed and developing nations have, then it would be quite a step forward in terms of finding paths to better living standards without jeopardising not just the global environment but the local one too.

If all these EST ( Environmentally Sound Technologies ) backed projects get going, I can assure you that existing Fossil Fuel Technology dependency will be diminished in a considerable way to keep the Mother Earth greener than ever ..

Ima Beleafer,

“Why don’t they use geothermal instead of wind driven bird choppers and solar panels which will be pounded into junk with the first storm?”

Just as food for thought, high rises and domestic cats kill orders of magnitude more birds than wind turbines. Maybe we should start by eliminating those.

Re your second point, I work with a Solar Engineering company in south Florida and I can assure you that we design major installations to withstand 150 mph winds (Cat 5 hurricane) and direct impacts from flying debris.
We also factor in payback into our installations.

Oh, I have no issue with geothermal maybe you can get a few science and engineering degrees and get a job implementing them. Knowing what you’re talking about does raise your credibility a notch or two.

Posted by Fred Magyar | Report as abusive

“Aren’t these islands volcanic? Why don’t they use geothermal instead of wind driven bird choppers and solar panels which will be pounded into junk with the first storm? Green is great but shouldn’t they also consider pay-back shown on the business model, which is — never.” I quote the best

Faced with many environmental challenges, as a citizen of the Republic of Maldives, we urges the International Community to help us in every manner.

Posted by Hussain Habeeb | Report as abusive

It’s great that solar is more affordable then ever. As many here have suggested, it’s always best to shop around and compare quotes. Plus there are differences in solar panel manufacturers, mounting and other equipment. It might not require as much research and planning as redoing a kitchen, but you should at least know what is going to be on your roof for the next 25 years.
You can search and compare options at FreeCleanSolar.com . They have a directory of local solar panel installers representing most every solar panel brand including Sunpower, Kyocera, Sharp, Evergreen and Sunwize. You can also find information about state solar rebates, federal tax credits, solar financing and leasing, system costs and the benefits of going solar. The bottom line is that many homeowners and business owners can afford solar power today.

Posted by jacktimber10jt | Report as abusive

This is a pretty cool story, it amazes me how serious people can be about green energy when their part in the environmental decline is miniscule at best. They might not consume energy on a large scale but their commitment is commendable.

Their are a lot of projects that are in motion in the US right now, but it’s still just a small dent in the energy we consume on a day to day basis. I don’t think people actually realize just how much energy we are consuming as a nation. Their are websites like solar energy facts that you can read about it. It truly is staggering how much work is ahead of us to be free of the fossil fuel.

Posted by Eliwagar1 | Report as abusive