The real culprit causing the power cuts on the island at present is actually the sun – that bright object in the heavens without whom various life forms on earth would be severely compromised. To borrow from Burt Bacharach…”So I just did some talking to the sun, And I said I didn’t like the way he’s got things done, Sleeping on the job…”
Yep, that’s it folks, our sun, our normally dependable, warm tropical sun, has been sleeping on the job, so much so that our electricity generating solar panels are about as useful as traffic lights on Beveridge Reef.
To understand why the sun is being blamed – well, sort of – for our current electricity woes, a little background knowledge is required. The island has a number of large arrays of solar panels or photovoltaic cells at the airport, next to Niue Foou Hospital, at Tuila power house, Niue High School and so on. These installations generate electricity – if and when the sun is out – which can be used in two ways.
One is to charge the batteries to store the energy ready to be used when the sun is not shining, e.g., at night or on a wet and cloudy day. These arrays are also capable of providing electricity directly to the consumers as is often the case on clear cloudless blue sky; it is also capable of doing these two things at the same time. (Paku… wow…)
In the event that there is intermittent direct sunlight and the energy stored in the batteries is running low, Niue Power can use standby diesel generators to charge the same batteries, thus ensuring a steady supply of electricity. This is done at night as well. These generators can provide electricity direct to the consumers, if the solar panels for some reason, are not working to generate electricity. Similar to the solar panels, the diesel generator can provide power for the island as well as to charge the batteries. The island’s current woes are caused by the inability of the standby generator to produce enough electricity to meet the demand.
Power House manager Hui Paola says that engineers have managed to get the standby generator to operate, sufficient to meet normal demand, but not necessarily at peak hours. The island can expect power to be interrupted until such time as the sun decides to awaken from its slumber.
The forecast for the next few days is for more sunshine than cloud. The bottom line is that the island’s renewable energy electricity supply is only as reliable as its fossil fuelled standby polluting generators.
Update: It seems that the standby generators are not operating at their normal efficiency and so an engineer from NZ will arrive on the Friday flight to assist Niue Power.