Canterbury students assist Tonga develop renewable energy system

Five University of Canterbury (UC) electrical engineering students from New Zealand have returned from Tonga after assisting the local power company to investigate various renewable energy projects.

Supervisor Dr Andrew Lapthorn from UC’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said the most novel approach sought to produce biofuel from coconuts, which, although technically possible, was determined by the students as not economically viable for electricity generation.

The five final year students are Aaron Ang from New Plymouth, Andrew Berry from Levin, Mitch Graham from Havelock North, Ben Mulholland from Christchurch and Peter Whyte from Whakatane.

Different options including wind power, tidal energy and solar power were modelled for three different island groups: Ha’apai, Vava’u and Tongatapu. The trip allowed the students to present their research findings and project modelling to representatives from Tonga’s state-owned electricity company, Tonga Power Ltd.

“It’s vastly different from New Zealand in terms of the resources available,” Dr Lapthorn says.

“Up until a few years ago, all the electricity generated in Tonga was from diesel power generators, but this is uneconomical due to the cost of shipping fossil fuels and generator maintenance. Adding more renewable generation can help insulate the community from oil price changes.

“People look at renewable energy and they think things like wind and solar and there’s an abundance of that in the Pacific, but there are the challenges such as how to store electricity for use when it is not windy or sunny.

“Our students looked at various storage options, as well as gauging how much energy each different option could produce,” explains Dr Lapthorn.

One location tested for tidal generation gave good levels of energy, but again the economics of producing it meant it wasn’t a feasible option. The most efficient method is solar power, and the UC students were able to help make recommendations about size and location of panels as part of UC’s continuing relationship with Tonga Power.

Diversifying energy sources became an even greater priority for Tonga after Cyclone Ian struck the Ha’apai group of islands in January 2014. It affected more than 80 percent of the infrastructure, including the power system supplied by two 186kilowatt diesel generators.

The students’ research findings will help Tonga further develop an energy road map.

“Tonga relies heavily on external aid from other countries such as New Zealand and China, so the students findings can help inform funding applications to implement chosen power systems,” Dr Lapthorn says.

The week-long trip was mainly funded by UC’s College of Engineering as part of the University’s developing reputation for engaging in projects that are useful for businesses, communities and natural environments.

The University of Canterbury has led a number projects in Tonga over the past few years, including installing solar systems on six school rooftops to help reduce expensive diesel-fuelled power bills.

Canterbury University


  1. Ne toki foki mai ha kau ākonga ʻa e ʻUnivēsiti ʻo Kenitapelí ʻi Nuʻu Sila mei Tonga hili ia haʻanau tokoniʻi e kautaha ʻuhila ʻa e fonuá ʻi hano fakatotoloʻi ha ngaahi polōseki ki he maʻuʻanga ivi ʻoku lava ke toe fakafoʻoú ke fakalele mei ai ʻa e ʻuhilá.

    Ne pehē ʻe he supavaisa mei he Tipataatimeni ʻo e ʻEnisinia Fakaʻuhila mo Komipiuta ʻa e ʻunivēsití ko e founga foʻou fakamuimui tahá koi a ʻoku faʻu ai ʻa e lolo mīsiní mei he fuaʻi niú, ʻa ia neongo ʻoku matangofua pe, ka kuo aofangatuku e kau ākongá ni ʻo pehē ʻe mamafa fakapaʻanga hano faʻu ke maʻu mei ai ʻa e ivi ʻuhilá.

    Ko e fānau ako taʻu fakaʻosi ʻe toko nima ko ʻeni ko Aaron Ang mei New Plymouth, Andrew Berry mei Levin, Mitch Graham mei Havelock North, Ben Mulholland mei Christchurch mo Peter Whyte mei Whakatane.

    Naʻe fokotuʻu leva ʻa e ngaahi founga kehekehe ke fili ai ʻi Vavaʻu, Haʻapai mo Tongtapu ki he founga fakalele ʻenau ʻuhilá mei he maʻuʻanga ivi ʻe toe malava pe ke fakafoʻoú.

    Ko e folau leva ko ʻeni ki Tongá ne lava ke tuku atu ai ʻe he fānau ako ʻeni e ola ʻenau fakatotoló mo ʻenau ngāue kuo lava ki heʻenau polōsekí ki he kau fakafofonga mei he Kautaha ʻUhila ʻa Tongá, ʻa ia ko e Tonga Power Ltd.

    ʻOku mahino foki kia Dr Lapthom ʻa e kavengaʻia ʻa e kau maʻu ʻuhila ʻi Tongá tuʻunga he mamafa ʻa e lolo tīsoló pea ʻe hoko ʻa e ʻuhila ʻoku foʻu mei he ngaahi maʻuʻanga ivi ʻoku ala fakafoʻoú ko ha solovaʻanga ki he palopalema ko iá.

    Ne ne pehē foki ko ʻene pehē pe ivi ʻoku malava ke fakafoʻou pea ʻoku fakakaukau pe kakai ki he ngaahi meʻa hangē ko e ivi mei he laʻaá mo e havili pea ʻoku hangē ha tahí e ngaahi meʻa ko iá he Pasifikí, ka ʻoku ʻi ai foki e pole ia heni hangē pe ʻe fēfeeʻi hano fakahaofi e iviʻi ʻuhilá ke ngāueʻaki ʻo ka ʻikai ha havili pe laʻā.

    Naʻe fai hono vakaiʻi e tafaʻaki ko ʻení ʻe he fānau akó ni ki hano tauhi e iviʻi ʻuhilá mo e hā e lahi ʻo e fakamole ki hano foʻu ha meʻa pehē ka ne mahino e fuʻu fakakavenga fakaʻekonōmika ʻa e tafaʻaki ko iá ki hano faʻu.

    Ko e fili lelei taha ke ngāueʻakí ko e ivi mei he laʻaá peá ne lava ʻa e fānau akó ni ʻo ʻoatu ha poupou ki he lahi ʻo e ngaahi pēnolo mo e feituʻu ke tuʻu ai ʻa ia ko e konga ia ʻe hokohoko atu ai e fengāueʻaki ʻa e fānau ako Kenitapelí mo e Kautaha ʻUhila ʻa Tongá.

    Ko e ola ko ʻeni kuo maʻu mei he fakattolo fakaako ʻa e fānau akó ni ʻe tokoni ia ki Tonga ke ne fakalakalakaʻi atu haʻane toe mape foʻou ki heʻene maʻuʻanga ivi ʻuhilá.

    ʻOku fakafalala lahi ʻa Tonga he ngaahi tokoni mei tuʻa mei he ngaahi fonua hangē ko Nuʻu Sila mo Siainá ko ia ai ko e ʻū ʻilo ko ʻeni ʻa e fānau akó ʻe lava tokoni ki ha kole paʻanga ʻa Tonga ke fokotuʻu ʻaki ʻa e ngaahi sisitemi maʻuʻanga ivi ʻuhila ko ʻení, ko e lau ia ʻa Dr Lapthorn.

    Ko e folau uike ʻe taha ko ʻeni ʻa e fānau akó ki Tongá ne fakapaʻanga ia ʻe he Kolisi Fakaʻenisinia ʻa e ʻunivēsití ko e konga pe ia hono fakalakalakaʻi ʻene ngaahi polōseki ʻoku ʻaonga ki he pisinisí, kominiutií mo e ātakai fakanatulá.

    Kuo ʻosi fakahoko foki ʻe he ʻUnivēsiti ʻo Kenitapelí ha ngaahi polōseki lahi ʻi Tonga ʻi he ngaahi taʻu mai ko eé kau ai hano fokotuʻu ha sola sisitemi ʻi ha funga fale ʻo ha ngaahi ʻapiako ʻe ono ʻi Tonga ke fakasiʻisiʻi e fakamole ʻoku fua tuʻunga he mamafa ʻa e tisoló.


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