Of Coconuts, the Sun, and Small Isolated Islands

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

For a few years, I managed a combination of businesses on a very remote 100 hectare (250 acre) South Pacific island. The main businesses were a shipyard; a machine shop building aluminum boats and water tanks; a banking agency; a postal agency; a buying point for locals selling copra (dried coconut), beche-de-mer (sea cucumber), and trocus shell; and a trade store. About 80 acres of the island were planted to coconut, which was harvested and sold. In addition to getting into the 1000-Metre Sweat and the Two-Month Wait as Olympic events, I learned a lot about the logistics and the economics of running a business on an island in the middle of nowhere. The operation was, of course, diesel-powered. You can’t run a big lathe on a few batteries and some solar panels. So I know the problems of supplying fuel in remote islands in the most intimate and personal way, because I was the person who had to arrange the fuel supply, the guy who took the heat when it ran short. I have also looked very, very closely at the economics of coconut oil as an energy source.

As a result, I was both glad and sad to see that the island nation of Tokelau was switching their entire energy system to solar power plus coconut oil … because Tokelau is definitely in the middle of nowhere …

Figure 1. Where on Earth is Tokelau? Australia is at the lower left, and New Zealand is at the bottom center. Papua New Guinea is at the upper left. Tokelau is at the upper right.

Let me explain why I have mixed feelings about the changeover to the two alternative fuels, solar and coconut oil.

The first problem has nothing to do with energy sources. The difficulty is that as near as I can tell, the islanders have no stake in the project. The New Zealand Aid Programme is “advancing” the money to Tokelau, in the form of hiring a New Zealand company to purchase and install all of the solar gear. This kind of “parachute aid” tends not to last, because the local folks don’t have any skin in the game. If the people living in the area don’t take ownership of a project, if they don’t have to sweat to make the project happen, the odds of success plummet. I will be quite surprised if the “advance” of six million dollars from New Zealand Aid ever gets repaid. That’s a huge debt in a nation with the worlds smallest economy. Not just a small economy, the world’s smallest economy, and one of the poorest (182nd out of 194 countries in GDP/capita). So the project has a very shaky foundation.

Regarding solar and coconuts, let me take the easy one first, coconuts. Yes, you can run a diesel engine on coconut oil … if you have the oil. Figure 2 shows the main and largest atoll of the three atolls that make up Tokelau. It contains about half the land in the country. Like many atolls, it is in the form of a ring, with the widest and solidest individual islands on the windward side of the atoll. A coral atoll is not a solid thing. It is a hesitation in a storm-driven river of coral sand and rubble. As a result, on the side where the storms hit, the river of coral rubble is larger, and the islands are longer and more connected. Typically, none of the individual islands rise more than a few metres above sea level. The long island at the lower right of Figure 2 is only about 300 metres (1,000 ft) wide.

Figure 2. Nukunono, the main atoll of the three atolls (Atafu, Nukunono and Fakaofo) that make up the island nation of Tokelau. 5.53 miles equals ~ 9 km. There are about 1,200 people living in Tokelau, and there are about 5,000 Tokelauans living in New Zealand … go figure. Total land area is about 10 sq. km., but a good chunk of that is bare sand and uninhabited islets.

As you can see, there is very little usable land in Tokelau, and that’s the first problem with the coconut oil plan. It takes a heap of coconuts to equal the energy in a barrel of diesel. And it takes a heap of land to grow a heap of coconuts. I should know, coconuts were one of my businesses. And on the coral atolls of Tokelau, there’s very little spare land at all.

Next, humans and coconut palms have travelled together around the Pacific for a very good reason. Coconut palms are an astonishing plant. They can transubstantiate the worst soils, even the salty coral sands of tropical atolls, into rich oil, milk coconut meat, and fats. There are only a few food plants that can grow on the coral rubble and sand, so coconuts are very important to the nutrition of the children, because the coconut milk, meat, and foods cooked in coconut milk make up a large portion of the kids’ diet.

As a result of those issues, for me, on the atolls any coconut oil that gets burned is taken directly from the children’s nutrition … and I can’t see that as being a brilliant plan. Sure, on large volcanic islands like Fiji or the Solomon Islands it makes sense. Those islands have acres and acres of land on which they can and do plant coconuts. But on the atolls? Very doubtful.

Next, the solar question. In the US people say “What goes around, comes around.” In the South Pacific, I used to say “What goes around … stops.” The combination of heat, sand, humidity, and salt makes tropical islands one of the most corrosive and destructive natural environments. As a result, even “hardened” or “weatherized” systems tend to have both a high infant mortality rate and a short life expectancy.

The whole solar package consists of over 4,000 solar panels, 392 inverters, and 1,344 batteries. I would suggest that the lifetime of the batteries and the inverters will not be large. And who will do the repairs when they come due? I have looked at a variety of solar systems that have been installed in some of the more remote Pacific islands … hey, evaluating solar systems on tropical islands is a brutal job, but someone had to take it. Let me say that long-term success in Pacific solar systems is far less common than failure …

Finally, the entire concept of maintenance is quite foreign to the mindset of most Pacific Islanders. I ascribe this to the lack of winter. If you live in say Norway and you don’t plan ahead for the winter, you will die … which puts a real premium on, and selects for, folks who not only think about tomorrow, but act before tomorrow arrives. In the tropics, on the other hand, there is no winter, and no need to plan for the future. Here’s an example.

I once visited a lovely island in the outer reaches of Fiji in order to look at a solar system that they had installed. It was all designed to be foolproof … but the people in the islands are no fools, they are quite ingenious.

In order to keep the batteries from being killed by being drawn down too far, the people who designed the solar system had wisely designed it so that it would only provide power until the battery voltage fell below a certain threshold. At that point, the system was designed to shut off entirely to protect the battery. However, some enterprising soul found out that if you stuck a paper clip or a bit of wire between a certain pair of the contacts on the controller, it would let you drain the batteries entirely … and as a result, every battery on the island was stone, cold dead.

I was new to the Pacific at the time, and I didn’t understand that at all. Didn’t these folks think about what the future would bring when their batteries were dead? But it was all explained by what happened as I was leaving the island. We were all getting in the boat to depart, when a charming guy I’d met on the island came running up with a string of fish. He said “Here, I caught these, take these fish with you.”

I tried to demur, saying “Keep some for yourself, are you sure that you have enough for your wife and your kids?”, because I knew he had a whole passel of children.

“Oh, yes,” he said, “I have plenty. I have kept enough fish for all day tomorrow.”

I realized at that instant that I had just witnessed the long-term time horizon for event planning on a small island … the end of tomorrow. So I didn’t bother to lecture him on smoking fish and salting fish and pickling fish and all the stuff that a good Norwegian burgher would do. I took the fish, and I thanked him profusely.

And I realized later that his response was indeed much more reasonable than mine—the fish would keep much better swimming around in the lagoon than they would last as salted fish in a hot environment …

Sadly, however, while this point of view worked fine for many, many years, it doesn’t work all that well these days when it comes to the maintenance of complex machinery … and while solar systems are better than most in requiring minimum maintenance, they still do need to be maintained. This does not bode well for the future of the Tokelau solar system.

Fortunately, since the Kiwis are putting up the money, none of this really matters. Let me say, however, that my prediction is that in ten years, Tokelau will still be importing fossil fuels for a host of uses, and that much if not all of the solar system will be quietly rusting away … I could be wrong, and I truly hope that I am wrong. I hope that the good folks of Tokelau realize what they have, and that they learn to cherish and maintain and protect it so it serves them well, long into the future, and that they repay the six million dollar “advance” to the Kiwis …

I just wouldn’t bet any money on that happening.

w.

PS—Why do I think the “advance” from New Zealand won’t be repaid? Well, GDP per capita in Tokelau is about a thousand bucks a year … but that doesn’t mean that an average individual earns that much cash in a year, much of that is subsistence farming and fishing, or government income from tuna fishing licenses. What little money the people have goes to things like school fees and clothing and medicines and the like. Most people survive in large measure because of “remittances”, money sent back to the “old country” by Tokelauans living in New Zealand and elsewhere.

The CIA World Factbook says:

The people rely heavily on aid from New Zealand – about $10 million annually in 2008 and 2009 – to maintain public services. New Zealand’s support amounts to 80% of Tokelau’s recurrent government budget. An international trust fund, currently worth nearly US$32 million, was established in 2004 to provide Tokelau an independent source of revenue. The principal sources of revenue come from sales of copra, postage stamps, souvenir coins, and handicrafts. Money is also remitted to families from relatives in New Zealand.

The annual government expenses in Tokelau are four times their revenue … a neat trick made possible by the New Zealand Government making up the shortfall each and every year. In other words, forget about affording to repay the “advance”, they can’t even afford the government that they have.

Six million dollars divided by the 1,200 inhabitants of the atolls is a debt of about $5,000 for every man, woman, and child in Tokelau. Or we could divide it by the “labor force”, which the CIA Factbook puts at 440 souls, which means a debt of about $13,600 per adult …

Given that disparity, I see no feasible way that the advance will ever be repaid. Which is perfectly fine, it simply means that solar energy in Tokelau is just another NZ Aid project, good on ya, Kiwis … but let’s not pretend that it is a loan.

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William Martin in NZ

Well written Willis,I see the money as a gift.They could never repay it.But look at how our govt.spend money here,or should I say waste it.Our own windmills are losing money.But the majority of our politicians have their brains and balls in the same bag,and the taxpayers are being screwed more and more to support useless projects.Maybe I’m just getting old?

MikeH

What I’d like to know is, did someone on the island of Tokelau actually request and push for this to happen, or did some good Samaritan politician (yup, I chuckled when I typed that last phrase), with absolutely no ties to the alternative energy sector, volunteer to have this done for them (or would that be ‘to them’)?

KevinM

Sounds like if they backed their 6 million investment with 6 thousand a year (paid in strings of fish) they could achieve local buy in. It usually only takes one ambitious person who cares. If I were still young and single I’d apply for the job today.

dalyplanet

I have also considered that cold weather has been the driver of technology and industry for the same reason you mention.. I can imagine living on on a 250 acre island you will get to know the neighbors !

Myron Mesecke

Obviously we must get countries like Japan and the United Arab Emirates that have experience building islands to step up and fill in the center of the atoll so that there is more land to grow coconuts. (sarc)

Bill

Very interesting post, Willis.

NZ Groover

….What I’d like to know is, did someone on the island of Tokelau actually request and push for this to happen, or did some good Samaritan politician (yup, I chuckled when I typed that last phrase), with absolutely no ties to the alternative energy sector, volunteer to have this done for them (or would that be ‘to them’)?…..
Good question, anyone know the answer?

Dr Burns

Well written, great story.

Mike Sphar

Willis, you made no mention of possible typhoons. I am current sitting on my boat waiting for the next tropical cyclone to come along here on the southern side of Puerto Rico. I presume that cyclone visits Tokelau also bringing tremendous winds to grind sand into the solar glass panels and tear the palm fronds from the palm trees as I have seen on other Pacific islands. Paradise can be beautiful but it also has another face which appears occasionally.

matt

I think this solar project might actually do some good for the islanders. Once the solar voltaics have decayed to the point of being usless, all those panels will make exelent roofing material for lean-tos and huts. 🙂

Matthew R Marler

You have made the case that nothing can work there and that the Kiwis should get out entirely. The solar panels do not seem to be worse than anything else they are buying for the place.
It will be interesting to revisit this story in 15 years, and see if the solar power has worked out better than something else would have. Do PV panels actually require more maintenance, either in total hours or skill level, than Diesel engines?

Justthinkin

Gawd. Using food to make fuel,again! I thought the Kiwis being so far from Turtle Bay,they wouldn’t buy into the UN’s Agenda 21.And how many typhoons,or even just the storm surge from one,hits these little islands only 15 ft ASL?Could make a right mess of some solar panels.
What is the average oil produced by one coconut,and how many palms will it take to produce one barrel of “fuel”,and how many acres and tens of thousand of trees to produce enough for one week’s use,let alone one year. So where are the Tokelauans supposed to live,when all their land is in coconut trees?

John Garrett

w-
As you likely know, Steve Thomas (known widely for his hosting of “This Old House” on U.S. PBS), wrote a fascinating book called “The Last Navigator” that related his effort to learn star path navigation from an elder on the South Pacific island of Satawal.
Your description of the Tokelau culture’s lack of any sense of time reminds me of what Steve Thomas wrote of his experience on Satawal. For these people, clocks and calendars are alien concepts.
I always enjoy your perspective, your analytical work and your commentaries here at WUWT.

Sam Hall

I lived in American Samoa for six years and could not agree more when it comes to the maintenance of complex machinery . For example, the Samoans didn’t like a certain model of car, said that it broke down after a year or so. Turns out that what was happening was that when the oil level got a little low, the timing belt broke. I explained that you had to change the oil or at least keep it topped off and they thought I was crazy.
We lost a 100 ton AC unit because the repair guy bypassed the low-voltage disconnect because it was keeping the unit from operating. I kid you not.
The people proposing this clearly don’t know anything about the islands. One thing though, the islanders love their children so, they will get the coconuts.

Mike Wryley

This piece speaks volumes to all kinds of issues in undeveloped countries and certain peoples efforts to “bring them out of the dark ages” without regard to culture. Technology in and of itself is no solution, as witnessed by many a newer tractor sitting in the weeds somewhere in Africa for want of a hose clamp or preventive maintenance.
I am quick to make points with certain liberal folk who blame all the perceived woes in certain areas of the world on a lack of compassion by those more fortunate by reminding them of the fact that the people they are so concerned about had a four thousand year head start.

Doug in Seattle

This isn’t about sustainability, its about the appearance of sustainability.
None of the clowns responsible for a project like this have the slightest idea wht the term means anyway.

Dr Mo

I pity the guy who is your equivalent on Tokelau…

eo

In the UN general assembly every nation has one vote and so is in most special bodies of the UN. giving aids or loan that could not be repaid is one way of getting the nation’s vote towards the particular agenda the leading or donor country has in the UN and special bodies. If the donor gives a billion dollars to India, it will just amount to $1 dollar per capita whereas in the small island country a million dollar will amount to $1,000 dollars per capita. Dont worry about the nutrition related issue. Surely New Zealand dairy industry is already in the queue to fill the gap. Politically, the aid or loan is a “win -win” situation for NZ politicians. Other than keeping the small pacific island country in perpetual debt and may be in a new form of “neo-colonialism” or chained to vote in its international agenda, the 5,000 NZ residents would most likely have taken NZ citizenship. Keeping their home country in perpetual dire straits, would also keep those voters captive. I was doing an island hopping tour in the pacific ( north and south) and I was surprised on the presence of countries with strong agenda in the UN.

Gary Hladik

“However, some enterprising soul found out that if you stuck a paper clip or a bit of wire between a certain pair of the contacts on the controller, it would let you drain the batteries entirely … and as a result, every battery on the island was stone, cold dead.”
A gentle reminder that dead batteries will prevent them from seeing next week’s episode of “The Big Bang Theory” on their satellite TV may extend the time horizon by up to 6 days. 🙂

DirkH

dalyplanet says:
August 9, 2012 at 2:35 pm
“I have also considered that cold weather has been the driver of technology and industry for the same reason you mention.. I can imagine living on on a 250 acre island you will get to know the neighbors !”
I don’t think so. We had lousy weather in Northern Europe for millenia yet we had to import the zero from India in the 9th century.
A key change happened in the 13. century, with scholars like Albertus Magnus and William of Occam; the development of a scientific method. This was during the end of the medieval warm period, a period of less cold and higher wealth. I would think the monks had more time and resources to do research and contemplate logical questions.

Peter

the banksters ponzi paper money scheme has now covered the earth….when does their housing bubble start???

James from Arding

Willis,
With reference to; http://www.horizonfuelcell.com/portable_power_minipak.htm
My question is; “In your opinion does hydrogen as a power source have any future potential in remote locations such as you describe here, or for that matter anywhere in the world?”

Robert of Ottawa

An enviable life, Willis. In the Turcs and Caicos, I met a Brit who was a Scuba dive Instructor. He related how his mother told him constantly how he should stop bumming around and get a real job. “So, with a real job, I could afford to visit the Turcs and Caicos once a year?”.

Coach Springer

Matthew R Marler says:
August 9, 2012 at 3:12 pm
You have made the case that nothing can work there …
===================
I read it a bit differently. The points were that diesel works best for the condtions, that the alternatives won’t work as well or likely wont’t work at all, and that most likely, they’ll be back to what works best in a lot less than 15 years. Seems rational without injecting a preference.

Gary Hladik

I’m curious why solar power was chosen over wind for this project. I understand offshore wind power is more reliable than onshore, and the atoll is about as offshore as you can get.
I gather from the linked article that the solar project will be three big systems. Wouldn’t it be better to use residential-sized installations (wind or solar), with each owner responsible for his own system? Presumably it wouldn’t take long to sort out the “long” time horizon owners from the “short” ones. 🙂

Dave Hayes

I think the Tokelaun’s would rather have the $5k each in their pockets.

Willis Eschenbach

Matthew R Marler says:
August 9, 2012 at 3:12 pm

You have made the case that nothing can work there and that the Kiwis should get out entirely. The solar panels do not seem to be worse than anything else they are buying for the place.
It will be interesting to revisit this story in 15 years, and see if the solar power has worked out better than something else would have. Do PV panels actually require more maintenance, either in total hours or skill level, than Diesel engines?

Sorry for the lack of clarity, Matthew. I certainly don’t think that “nothing can work there”, or that the “Kiwis should get out entirely”. I do think that “parachute projects” with little local buy-in and a lack of backup, training and support are not the best use of development funds.
All the best,
w.

David A. Evans

James from Arding says:
August 9, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Willis,
With reference to; http://www.horizonfuelcell.com/portable_power_minipak.htm
My question is; “In your opinion does hydrogen as a power source have any future potential in remote locations such as you describe here, or for that matter anywhere in the world?”

And the Hydrogen comes from????
DaveE

Willis Eschenbach

James from Arding says:
August 9, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Willis,
With reference to; http://www.horizonfuelcell.com/portable_power_minipak.htm
My question is; “In your opinion does hydrogen as a power source have any future potential in remote locations such as you describe here, or for that matter anywhere in the world?”

Good question, James. I know little about hydrogen, I’ve never looked too hard at it because it never seemed like a practical answer. I do know that hydrogen is a real expert at escaping from confinement. Being the smallest atom, it can sneak out of tanks and pipes and compressors that comfortably hold and handle natural gas or oxygen or nitrogen.
Hydrogen also has another problem—there are no hydrogen mines. As a result, it is not an energy source. It is more like electricity, solely a means of energy transport.
This means that you first have to manufacture hydrogen, which takes (and wastes) energy, and then you have to capture it in some jail from which it can’t escape, and then you need to move it to where you need to use it, and then you need to put it in the machine where it will be used, and then you can use it to power the machine … and at every step in that you have inevitable losses.
As a result, while anything is possible, I’m less than optimistic about a hydrogen powered future … for example, if you are using electricity to manufacture hydrogen from water and then you have to build the hydrogen distribution and storage system, you’d be way ahead to just use the same electrical energy in the battery of an electric car …
w.

JC

Its the Pacific version of the “Game of Thrones”.
NZ pays to keep the islands occupied so first the Germans, then the Japanese and lately the Chinese cant annex them and create a strategic spot in that part of the Pacific.
And as any Australian or South African will tell you, NZ plunders the islands for the best rugby players 🙂
JC

Ian W

As a result of those issues, for me, on the atolls any coconut oil that gets burned is taken directly from the children’s nutrition … and I can’t see that as being a brilliant plan.
I agree with justthinkin but a slightly more acerbic take on things.
It would appear that the ‘greens’ really have an intent to reduce the world’s food supply. Despite it being shown that biofuels are actually less efficient – even in carbon footprint terms – they insisst on mandating use of food crops for fuel. Both the EU (Etats Uni) and the EU (European Union) have similar ethanol from corn requirements. It saves nothing, is less efficient and causes problems in many engines. But no – the Agenda(21) driven green bureaucrats insist on it. Now we see the same in this New Zealand scheme. Unfortunately, as a percentage of the population New Zealand probably holds the world record for ‘greens’.
Is this a subtle way of taking control away from the peasant farmer and forcing dependence on the benevolence of some distant Goldman Sachs banker funded politician? Even in the US there appears to be movement to use various misapplications of the “commerce clause” to prevent people growing their own food.
If the islanders have any sense they will not accept the PV cells and batteries and biofuel from their food crop. It is the thin end of a dependency wedge.

RoyFOMR

Just take a wee bit of time away from blogging and get Volume One of your autobigraphy written Willis.
Please!

Willis Eschenbach

Gary Hladik says:
August 9, 2012 at 4:09 pm

I’m curious why solar power was chosen over wind for this project. I understand offshore wind power is more reliable than onshore, and the atoll is about as offshore as you can get.

Good question, Gary. I don’t know the answer, but my guess is that Tokelau, at 9° south of the Equator, is somewhat in the doldrums and doesn’t have a big wind resource … but they are just far enough south of the equator to get an occasional cyclone. A cyclone won’t do the solar system any good either, but it’s death for wind systems.

I gather from the linked article that the solar project will be three big systems. Wouldn’t it be better to use residential-sized installations (wind or solar), with each owner responsible for his own system? Presumably it wouldn’t take long to sort out the “long” time horizon owners from the “short” ones. 🙂

That would be most definitely better than the “one big system per village” they have implemented, although your plan seems doubtful as well. It is a very tough task to introduce a new technology like that.
If I ran the zoo, I’d start by putting much smaller solar systems in the schools, and teaching the kids how to use and maintain them.
Then once the kids knew how to use them, I’d set up a battery charging station in the schools and people could bring in their battery to get maintained and charged, and carry it home to use it. People would have to pay a few bucks to get their battery charged, so they’d learn to conserve the power and use it wisely. Plus the schools could make money, which is always a plus. That’s what I saw them doing in Paraguay, for example (except the charging stations are at the sawmills), and it works well there.
Then after some years, if there is actual demand and there are some kids who have actually learned to maintain them and there are some people willing to put in some sweat equity, I’d start putting in individual systems … but it’s still a doubtful outcome. I don’t know the situation on the ground in Tokelau, so that’s just a first cut on a better plan …
w.

David A. Evans

Willis beat me to it, (in terms of moderation at least.)
Hydrogen may be the most available element but it’s already tied up in hydrates, and hydrides. It’s going to take more energy to extract than you will ever get back.
DaveE.

DirkH

Gary Hladik says:
August 9, 2012 at 4:09 pm
“I’m curious why solar power was chosen over wind for this project. I understand offshore wind power is more reliable than onshore, and the atoll is about as offshore as you can get.”
While the wind is blowing more constant offshore, at least in the North Sea, the offshore wind trubines are anything but reliable. It’s difficult and expensive to build the foundations, nobody knows how long they will last, and a 5 degree tilt wrecks your wind turbine for good. Meaning, the foundation has to be very stable over the lifetime of the thing.

Alex Avery

I used the same “hydrogen is an energy carrier, not an energy source” argument with my stock broker father-in-law 15 years ago in steering him back to reality — and then in a letter to Popular Science that was actually published in response to an awful Jeremy Rifken article proclaiming the new, wonderful hydrogen future. Me is skeptical too. 🙂

Robin

Good article, pretty much to the point. One general point not brought out, however, may be differing concepts of “value”. I should explain.
In the early 1960s I happened to visit the Tokelaus several times. Once at Nukunono a model war canoe was offered to me to buy as a memento. It was quite an attractive item as these things go, 40cm or so long, complete with outrigger and tiny white cowrie shells sewn along the gunwales representing (I was told) the skulls of the vanquished.
I asked “How much?” The vendor said “Five pounds”. At the time, that was a lot of money. So I said no, thanks. He then said he would accept a cake of soap instead.
Not wishing to take advantage I still declined the sale, but I’ve often worried since then about what the exchange revealed. It certainly wasn’t a case of naivete or ignorance. He was educated and articulate, well above that kind of slighting put-down. I can only think that, to him, in that place at that time, a cake of soap and five pounds had equivalent value. If so, then the assumptions of commerce that I had grown up with would need to be approached on a completely different footing in his society.

David Larsen

And what do they do at night? Go back to candles and whale oil lamps. Start to factor in the batteries. They have a 3-4 years use life. Life of panels is 20-25 years. So, you are looking at 6-7 new battery systems for the life of panels. Add those costs into your cost per kWh. What do you do with the lead batteries after they have no use life. Sounds really green to me. The cost per kWh when all factors are included make solar a warm and feelly energy source but has site specific applications and that is it, unless you are rich. Gee, no utility there to buy by the green electrons. So green. Green is the color of money! That is what you better have a lot of if you are going solar.

Ed

Any chance of tidal power?

David L. Hagen

Great observations Willis on the challenges of maintaining complex systems in developing countries.
On coconuts, there is enough sustainable energy in coconut biomass to provide more electricity per capita than is used in developing country cities – while preserving the coconut oil and kernel for the much more valuable food use – virgin coconut oil. e.g. See
Hagen, D.L. “Energy Systems for Small Scale Coconut Processing” Proc. COCOTECH XXVIII, Asian & Pacific Coconut Community Conference, Suva, Fiji July 1991, 47 pp http://www.apccsec.org/
Hagen, D.L. & Etherington D. “Coconut Palms for Sustainable Energy and Development” Solar ’91 Energy for a Sustainable World, Proc. Australian & New Zealand Solar Energy Society Conf. Adelaide, SA 5-7 Dec. 1991, pp 169-178 ISBN 0958852057, 9780958852050
Gasifiers still require knowledgeable management, service, maintenance, and spares.
Salt spray on the windward side of and island can corrode an axle in two years.
So for the South Pacific, provide a corrosion protected spare anvil.

These tropical volcano mount atolls are the best locations for Ocean thermal energy conversion as there is a large temp difference between surface water and deeper levels. These systems operate 24/7 and are unaffected by weather. Although I have no idea what their maintenance requirements are.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_thermal_energy_conversion

Paul Deacon

Hurry up and write your memoirs, Willis!

Invokes some recollections … late 80’s at PNG University of Technology there was a swb diesel Landcruiser that ran on distilled palm oil. Gave off a sort of soapy, chip-frying smell when it went past. This was of course a ‘diesel cranker’, could be started with a cranking handle, and the engine didn’t stop if the battery fell out.
On the other hand, state of the art graders etc full of electronic wizardry used to stop a few weeks after delivery – printed circuit boards turned to green mush in the heat/humidity.
We also had E18 ethanol blend. Used to eat the bottom out of aluminium carbs, exhaust pipes needed replacing with scaffolding tube, fuel pipes sometimes needed a sleeve from the a/c system to prevent the fuel vapourising before it got to the carb.
We also produced pozzolanic cement, from local volcanic sources and village-level lime production from shells. All very interesting, but far more expensive than simply importing the stuff.
As Gary says above, residential-sized installations are the way to go. Stick to 12/24v, tractor-grade batteries, military-grade solar panels, and yes, wind turbines could work – provided they are vertical shaft, easy to make and balance, and easily dismounted for servicing by two people using hand tools.
As a student/community project, we built a medical aid centre at Erap, north side of the Markham Valley. Timber cut locally using a walkabout sawmill. Sand and aggregates for post bases collected by the local primary school kids from the river: 200 children, each with a bilum, produced a perfect mix in about 2 hours. Light for the centre, power for the BP-donated antibiotics fridge from a solar panel, plus a micro-hydro line, gravity fed from a cave up above the village, outflow irrigated the vegetable gardens. Everybody was involved …

Willis Eschenbach

Philip Bradley says:
August 9, 2012 at 5:27 pm

These tropical volcano mount atolls are the best locations for Ocean thermal energy conversion as there is a large temp difference between surface water and deeper levels. These systems operate 24/7 and are unaffected by weather. Although I have no idea what their maintenance requirements are.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_thermal_energy_conversion

Thanks, Philip. OTEC works, but it’s a question of scale. They built a 10kW test plant in Hawaii some years back, but the cost was huge because it was small scale.
They are also subject to fouling from sea growth, and damage from the vagaries of the ocean.
w.

JamesS

Robert of Ottawa says:
August 9, 2012 at 3:55 pm
An enviable life, Willis. In the Turcs and Caicos, I met a Brit who was a Scuba dive Instructor. He related how his mother told him constantly how he should stop bumming around and get a real job. “So, with a real job, I could afford to visit the Turcs and Caicos once a year?”.

I think Little Feat summed it up best:

I got an Uncle in Puerto Rico
Spends his days in the sun
his nights in the casinos
He left the States many years ago
Took a fishin’ boat to Puerto Rico
Now my aunt, she is sad and lonely
She’ll never know that she drove him away
As a coward I admire his courageous ways
Some say my uncle, that he’s a zero
His life is as a shell, he left it back at Stateside
I’d say he’s doin’ pretty well, without his shell
Bumming ’round the beaches of Puerto Rico
The beauty of the sunrise and sunset
To his friends he wish he could tell
They’re at home still runnin’ for bells
Better San Juan than that blue collar hell

Dr. John M. Ware

If NZ is supplying 80% of the money to run Tokelau, then it is obvious that Tokelau is not a nation, not independent at all, but a protectorate of NZ, which is primarily responsible for its operation. And yet, do I understand, this “nation” has a vote at the UN?
I greatly appreciate Willis’s clear exposition of the energy situation; very well done. For dependable power, it is obvious that neither wind nor solar is a good solution for Tokelau, and coconut oil as fuel takes food away from the people. Not perfect.

sophocles

We have in power a bunch of politicians who are the nearest (NZ) equivalent to right-wing Conservatives. Unfortunately, they collectively, and individually, haven’t a brain cell
between them. (You can tell from little adventures—aka potential disasters—like this one
and their constant aping of the United Kingdom’s failures. Just as the UK admits it was
wrong and does something to repair the damage, NZ legislates it into existence here,
*sigh*).
Unfortunately, this describes most politicians here—including the members of Her Majesty’s
Loyal Opposition (yes, NZ is a monarchy…so far) such as the NZ Green Party
et al.
What’s even worse, they were all elected which really doesn’t say much for the electorate.
(Most of our best emigrate as soon as they can. Sadly, like a few others, I missed the boat.)

Manfred

NZ is pretty much a socialist eco-ecotheocracy heavily influenced by Greenpeace et al. and the UN. In spite of 60% of NZ power being renewable (hydroelectric), it saddles its low wage population with carbon taxation and monumentally high power prices. NZ gave the UN Ms Helen Clark, a socialist Prime Minister of three terms, and now the third most highly placed individual in the UN administration. UN Agenda 21 appears very close to the heart of the Ministry of We Know Best in NZ, who predictably want to save the World. Furnishing the impoverished Pacific Nation of Tokelau is little more than a blatant political exercise in this.
We’ve a way to go in technology development around dense energy production to enable tiny isolated communities on the edge of viability to survive, let alone flourish. As an oblique thought, when we’re in a position to put a largely self-sufficient colony on Mars, we’ll probably have Tokelau sorted.

Doug Badgero

As an aside, no one is getting hydrogen from water. As others have said it is impractical and uses more energy than you get back. Industrial sources of hydrogen come from natural gas.

Ally E.

Thanks, Willis. You are spot on. The Greens seemed determined to target food supplies, I guess that way they get two birds with one stone. It’s all about stopping humans, after all.
Something I learned from this post (and I thank you for) is that hydrogen is not such a promising choice either. I admit, I was one of those who thought it a great idea and had no knowledge of the complications. Fortunately, I have no problem with welcoming new knowledge into my life and can shift my views accordingly. Thank you again. 🙂