Solar powered systems for Tongan schools

Monday 21 May 2012, 4:59PM
By University of Canterbury

Installing solar power systems into Tongan high schools allowing computers to be used in classrooms, is an initiative about to be launched by University of Canterbury’s Mr Russell Taylor.

The EcoCARE Pacific Trust, co-founded by Mr Taylor, (Macmillan Brown Centre of Pacific Studies, School of Biological Sciences and NCRE), will roll out the Solar Photovoltaic (PV) and Information Communication Technology (ICT) Pilot Programme for Tongan Schools over five-weeks from June.

Mr Taylor says the project will initially install solar power systems in five high schools on the main island enabling computers or Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) to become more accessible to students. He hopes to eventually extend the project to a national roll out to include all 36 high schools on 21 different islands.

The $350,000 project, funded by New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, aims to provide sustainable and alternative energies for Pacific Island communities.

“This will be the first time students have had easy access to computers because Information Communication Technologies are so energy hungry. In the island nations, because the cost of power is so high, almost five times the price we pay in New Zealand, schools, hospitals and other institutions simply cannot afford to run ICTs ,” Mr Taylor says.

“Everything requires power, even water needs to be pumped. There are many occasions when schools on some outer islands have to close because they can’t pay the electricity costs to pump drinking water or water to flush the toilets. That means that ICTs are not a priority but it’s fundamental that schools have the power sources available to be able to use them. By providing solar power panels they can use them and also address the electricity problem in a sustainable way.”

The project has already utilised the skills of five University of Canterbury postgraduate students, including two from the College of Engineering who designed the 48 solar panel system. A number of Masters and PhD students will also be investigating differing impacts that these technologies might have on the culture, education and infrastructure.

In addition to the solar power panels each school will also be provided with 10 computers, Mr Taylor says.

“One of the reasons we are doing this in schools is because schools are a place of learning and getting these sustainable technologies into the communities is an important step. The students will have lessons on the technology. Those students are tomorrow’s community members,” adds Mr Taylor.

“We get tremendous support for this in the Tongan communities. We are supported from the general community all the way up to the Prime Minister’s office. We will be hiring local labour to install the solar panels and we are fully collaborative in every aspect of this,” he says.