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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

MEC To ‘Revolutionize’ Access To Solar Power In Marshalls
Plan involves affordable units, increased energy production

By Giff Johnson

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Jan. 25, 2013) – The first-ever plan to provide solar power to households on Majuro and Ebeye could be rolled out before the end of this year.

The Marshalls Energy Co. (MEC), the government’s national utility agency, is spearheading a two-pronged program that expects to offer financing for household solar equipment as well as support a "solar to grid" power development to reduce the utility’s dependence on diesel to produce power.

"We will revolutionize the region with this project," said MEC general manager David Paul. It is a first for large-scale household solar unit use in urban areas in the region, he said. To date, millions of dollars worth of solar equipment supplied by Taiwan and the European Union has been installed on remote islands in the Marshalls.

Paul said the government utility company is in the preliminary stage of securing money for a revolving loan fund to support home solar units. These would be offered to households in the two urban centers of Majuro and Ebeye, as well as in the sub-centers of Jaluit and Wotje to help people reduce their energy costs. MEC has gained support from the cabinet and is seeking an initial $2 million to initiate the plan from the Taiwan government, which is receptive to the plan, he said.

The idea is to offer several different-sized home solar packages to meet the needs of households in the Marshall Islands. The cost of the equipment would range from $11,000 to $25,000 and would be funded by a low-interest loan.

"People may say they can’t afford it, but the money to pay for it will come from their power savings," he said. These units can cut people’s power costs in half and the savings can be used to pay for the equipment. "This will improve economics at the household level," he said. The user will choose the solar system that best fits their needs, and loan funding will be provided to purchase it, he said. The aim is to work with Marshall Islands Development Bank, which will operate the loan fund. A key point is that to be eligible, all applicants must participate in training so they are certified to use and maintain their solar equipment.

The second project aims to install a large number of solar panels on Majuro and Ebeye that will be linked to the power grid distribution system, reducing the utility company’s use of diesel fuel to produce power. MEC is looking to finance the solar-to-grid project through United States government sources.

The plan is for a total of one megawatt of power — 800 kilowatts for Majuro, 200 for Ebeye — to be produced from solar. He said they are looking at options such as installing panels on public elementary school roofs in similar fashion to a Japan-supported solar project that installed solar panels on the roof of Majuro Hospital. The Japan-provided system is providing about 200 kilowatt hours of electricity daily into MEC’s grid. "It will save MEC 100,000 gallons of diesel a year," he said.

This level of solar use will not compromise the utility’s ability to provide power through diesel generation on days when it is cloudy or other weather conditions disrupt the solar system.

MEC usually runs two generators daily to supply Majuro with electricity. Combining this project with the Japan-provided solar system will produce one megawatt of power from the sun. "This is perfect for Majuro’s power demand," he said. "It is the right blend."

MEC will continue running two engines, but at a lower level once the solar comes on line, saving on fuel use. "But if there is rain, it will be easy to pick up the slack without any problems," he said.

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