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Energy

Kiribati relies on imported fuels for electricity generation, transport and cooking.

Electricity (and energy in general) brings a better standard of living and economic opportunities.

Outer Islands

On the outer islands the per capita energy use is very low. Energy is mostly used for lighting and cooking with solar and biomass being the main energy sources.

Over three-quarters of households in the rural Gilberts and Line Islands use wood fires for cooking. For those in the outer islands firewood is generally easily accessible. Kerosene is the second most common cooking fuel.

Electricity in rural areas mostly comes from solar PV systems.

Some Island Councils use a small generator and a mini-grid for electricity distribution. But sometimes these are only operated for a few hours each day.

In the outer islands, petroleum use is mainly kerosene and petrol (gasoline). The kerosene is generally used for lighting or cooking. The petrol is often used to operate a few motorcycles, outboard powerboats, a truck and tractor usually owned by the Island Council.

Generally, traditional sailing canoes are used for subsistence fishing and this helps to keep petrol use low on outer islands.

Urban - South Tarawa

On South Tarawa power is widely available.

Virtually no households use electricity for cooking. Kerosene is the most widely used cooking fuel. A small proportion still use wood as the primary cooking fuel but this is becoming increasingly difficult on South Tarawa as the tree cover is gradually depleted. This decreasing supply of firewood forces already poor households to purchase kerosene to meet their cooking needs. For many poor households the cost of purchased power, such as electricity or kerosene, is a deterrent to its use.

Electricity

Electricity from the grid serves about half of the households in Kiribati.

Electricity is a key component for small business development so is important for improving outer island socio-economic conditions.

Solar Energy

Solar PV is an important source of energy in outer islands. It is a small proportion of national energy consumption but is rising.

The Kiribati Solar Energy Company (KSEC) has been installing solar energy systems since 1984.

In 1992 KSEC changed into a solar utility company whereby solar installations would be made, maintained and owned by the company and electricity sold to users for a fee.

KSEC is responsible for providing all maintenance and ensuring that the solar installations remain operational and providing reliable power.

Fossil Fuel

The Kiribati Oil Company imports petroleum fuels to its depots in Tarawa and Kiritmati Island.

Supply to the outer islands is in 200 litre and 50 litre drums. Shipping problems sometimes cause fuel shortages.

Small deliveries and long transportation distances for importing and distributing petroleum throughout Kiribati drive up the landed price making the fuel very expensive.

Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) remains relatively expensive but its use is growing on South Tarawa as a replacement to kerosene for cooking due to its convenience and efficiency.

Kiribati struggles with the high cost of importing fossil fuels, especially the outer islands.

To minimise the importation of fossil fuels the Government has a policy of using renewable energy for outer island electricity.

Fossil fuel is a source of economic vulnerability for Kiribati. As Kiribati needs to import all fossil fuels it has no capacity to counteract increasing world prices. If real wages does not increase as fast as fossil fuel prices then more Kiribati people experience hardship and poverty.

Biomass

Biomass is estimated to constitute around 25% of the gross national energy supply and is often used for cooking in rural areas.

The biomass used is typically coconut husks, coconut shells, coconut fronds and mangrove wood. These are all traditional energy sources for Kiribati.

Copra production usually produces a large amount of biomass waste so there is no supply problem.

Premium firewood species, such as mangrove, have become scarce in some areas due to deforestation.

Other Renewable Energy Options

Biofuel

Kiribati has around 80% of the land area under coconut trees. Coconut oil may be able to be used for biofuel.

A coconut oil mill owned by Kiribati Copra Mill Ltd (KCMCL), a government corporation, has done trials mixing coconut oil with diesel fuel or kerosene. This appeared reasonably successful but so far has not been commercialised.

Biofuel has complex maintenance requirements, not only in production but also in increased maintenance of the diesel gensets. Often in remote locations these maintenance skills are lacking.

Biogas

There is a limited potential for biogas generation in Kiribati. The main source would be from pigs. However, the traditional approach where pigs are family owned and free ranging make manure collected for biogas generation unviable.

There are no commercial piggeries or cattle farms in Kiribati to be the source of a sustainable biogas fuel.

Wind Power

Wind power is not viable in Kiribati due to the limited land and the geographical location of Kiribati.

The main reason wind power is not suitable for Kiribati is that the zone either side of the equator has poor wind resources.

Land access issues especially around South Tarawa is a problems for wind power generation.

Environmental issues (such as noise and safety) and the need to cut down many economically useful tall coconut trees to provide a clear path for winds to reach the turbines without turbulence and energy loss is also a concern.

Due to these reasons solar power generation is a more viable option than wind power generation.

Ocean Energy

Wave energy, tidal energy and ocean thermal energy conversion are not yet commercially available to fit the conditions in Kiribati.

Ocean energy systems have complex maintenance requirements. Putting complex, high maintenance systems into remote islands where facilities and skills are lacking is likely to be problematic.

Challenges For Energy Deployment

The population is widely dispersed on numerous atolls and often further fragmented as islets in an atoll. This makes centralised management of outer island energy systems difficult. Because of the small and fragmented energy market, development of private energy related businesses is difficult.

High initial investment cost remains a barrier to investment in solar energy and electricity distribution systems.

Much of the energy projects are externally funded resulting in long lead times and added complexity to implementation.

Further infrastructure such as special control systems to avoid grid stability problems are required as the grid grows.

Environmental conditions in Kiribati are harsh on equipment. Obtaining replacement parts is both slow and costly because international transportation by air or sea to Kiribati and domestically is unreliable.

There is a lack of trained personnel for management and maintenance of equipment, especially on outer islands.