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.


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
August 9, 2012 2:19 pm

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?

August 9, 2012 2:29 pm

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’)?

August 9, 2012 2:34 pm

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.

August 9, 2012 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 !

Myron Mesecke
August 9, 2012 2:41 pm

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)

August 9, 2012 2:41 pm

Very interesting post, Willis.

NZ Groover
August 9, 2012 3:00 pm

….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
August 9, 2012 3:02 pm

Well written, great story.

Mike Sphar
August 9, 2012 3:05 pm

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.

August 9, 2012 3:11 pm

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
August 9, 2012 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?

August 9, 2012 3:12 pm

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
August 9, 2012 3:12 pm

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
August 9, 2012 3:15 pm

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
August 9, 2012 3:24 pm

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
August 9, 2012 3:28 pm

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
August 9, 2012 3:31 pm

I pity the guy who is your equivalent on Tokelau…

August 9, 2012 3:36 pm

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
August 9, 2012 3:39 pm

“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. 🙂

August 9, 2012 3:40 pm

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.

August 9, 2012 3:53 pm

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

James from Arding
August 9, 2012 3:53 pm

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
August 9, 2012 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?”.

Coach Springer
August 9, 2012 3:55 pm

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
August 9, 2012 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.
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
August 9, 2012 4:11 pm

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

David A. Evans
August 9, 2012 4:31 pm

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

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????

August 9, 2012 4:33 pm

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 🙂

Ian W
August 9, 2012 4:34 pm

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.

August 9, 2012 4:46 pm

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

David A. Evans
August 9, 2012 4:48 pm

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.

August 9, 2012 4:48 pm

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
August 9, 2012 5:09 pm

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. 🙂

August 9, 2012 5:09 pm

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
August 9, 2012 5:13 pm

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.

August 9, 2012 5:16 pm

Any chance of tidal power?

David L. Hagen
August 9, 2012 5:16 pm

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.

August 9, 2012 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.

Paul Deacon
August 9, 2012 5:29 pm

Hurry up and write your memoirs, Willis!

August 9, 2012 5:35 pm

[snip. Uncalled for and nasty. ~dbs, mod.]]

August 9, 2012 5:37 pm

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 …

August 9, 2012 5:51 pm

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
August 9, 2012 5:56 pm

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.

August 9, 2012 5:58 pm

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,
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.)

August 9, 2012 6:03 pm

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
August 9, 2012 6:04 pm

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.
August 9, 2012 6:12 pm

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. 🙂

August 9, 2012 6:20 pm

Africa too. A relative did work on electrical grids and power in Africa in 70 and 80’s. You know changing oil every X hours of big diesel generators ( the kind that are re-purposed marine engines about the size of a house.), yep, never done. Filters changed… nah, bypassed.
Also then transformers, you may not know but when they have major “issues” it’s a good idea to switch out the out oil there too, the events create carbon in the oil which is conductive, which the oil is not supposed to be. Happens enough times and the oil quench of the arc, uhm, doesn’t snuff, it whoofs.
Sad to see the whole place go up like a bomb and the genny’s wear out in a few years. Inthe west they’d be good for 30 to 40 years.

August 9, 2012 6:52 pm

75,000 words! Maybe 2/3 of the way through the process for Volume 1.
You’re a born-writer Willis. Hugely entertaining and thought provoking.
Crack on. I’d certainly buy it but I’d have to join a massive queue!

August 9, 2012 6:54 pm

I would wager that this idea was hatched as some artsy fartsy wine oriented function attended by the dandies of Wellington or Aukland. I can picture it, replete with concerned Baby Boomers with that special Kiwi version of warmed over late 1960s nostalgia.

August 9, 2012 7:03 pm

You are a treasure indeed.
Thank you.

August 9, 2012 7:17 pm

face a lot of these issues myself. biogas from coconut understorey biomass to biogas spec genset or capstone turbine. get electricity, heat, fertilser and runs 24/7. pay locals to cut biomass or better still combine with beef/chicken feedlot manure. if have grid not so much need for batteries and biomass can be stored as silage. if a dude is already maintaining a diesel genset now she can handle a biogas reactor and genset.

Interstellar Bill
August 9, 2012 7:37 pm

By targeting quality-of-life cost-effectiveness,
that same money could have upgraded every building on the island and all its streets and harbors, as well as the kids’ education, such as for the importation of educational toys.
Storm barriers.
Safer boats.
Medical supplies.
Repatriated native doctors.
Third-World PV mats with LED night-lights.
I get as angry at the shameful opportunity costs to these islanders imposed by this solar folly as I do at the criminally vast bird-slaughter by those super-ugly mega-slicers, imposed on us by the same feel-good liberalism in all its massively bovine stupidity, crass arrogance, and impenetrable ignorance.
Think I exaggerate?
Bird-slicers degrade a grid’s reliability as revoltingly as they depopulate the local birds.
They are a thousand times as technologically obscene as nuclear weapons.
The Tokelau solar installation is slow-motion techno-obscenity.

August 9, 2012 7:46 pm

The idea of turning coconut oil into diesel fuel is madness. We are paying about $20 per litre here in Australia, where diesel is worth about $1.50. Clearly the best way to turn coconut oil into diesel is to use the market. The only oil that can be rationally turned into diesel is used cooking oil, which we do. The world of nutrition is waking up to the fact that coconut oil is very healthy food. Its price is assured for the long term. It used to be spurned because it is highly saturated, but it is becoming obvious that the belief that polyunsaturated oils are better is nothing more than a scam. It is like the climate warming alarmism scam. If you have doubts, do a google search.

August 9, 2012 8:23 pm

@ DirkH
To make a simplified analogy, in cold climates the ant gene survives and the grasshopper gene does not, leaving far more ants than grasshoppers when the conditions are right for development/ enlightenment.

August 9, 2012 8:28 pm

What do you think the good people of Tokelau would have chosen if given the choice between this project or $5000 for every man, woman and child?

August 9, 2012 8:31 pm

Is the objective to produce enough energy to survive, or thrive ?

Brian H
August 9, 2012 8:33 pm

Actually read the minipak site info.
Metalhydride, no pressure, no leakage, stores for years. Refilled from any hydrogen source, such as industrial gas bottles. Not perfect, but workable. Fuel paks also refillable with their Hydrofill system, which breaks water with AC or DC power. Reasonable use for solar panel output.
But useful in that form factor only for electronic devices, AA battery substitute.
Islanders have developed a way of life that is “on the edge” but not over it. They have made a local peace with Malthus. Attempting to upgrade to a technological modern economy is a dead end. IMO.

Brian H
August 9, 2012 8:34 pm

typo: “to a technological …”
[Fixed. -w.]

August 9, 2012 9:05 pm

Just some rambling thoughts:
Coconuts in the raw are not good for your heart. Refined, it is good for you and for your brain. Raw coconut is better than no fresh food at all, though, and using that to generate energy seems a cruel fate. US farmers are now asking for a moratorium in biofuel production so they can feed their animals.
Hydrogen in the form of water is nature’s ash. Without an inexpensive way to disassociate it from what it has coupled with, any ash will have the same value. Not all refined ash will leak and exploded as does hydrogen. Research Canada’s Hydrogen Highway to see what the challenges are when depending on ash to fuel your economy.
Back to coconuts – there is a burgeoning market for refined coconut oil in the US as a diet supplement. It is also kickass in popcorn. When I was a kid growing up in Hawaii I would climb, catch, gut, clean, and eat at least one coconut/week when school was out. There was also banana, papaya, mango, and opihi. Pineapple too if you didn’t mind angering Dole. No shortage of things to eat without going to a store, and growing wild (except the pineapples 🙂 ). I’ve often wondered if the coconut had in any way contributed to the heart attack I finally had. Coconut trees need to be felled and replaced regularly or they grow so tall the falling fruit will kill you. Witness the royal grounds in Kaunakakai, Molokai. Once a royal gathering place for King David Kalakaua, it is now populated by very tall coconut trees and keep out signs. The ground is littered with self-buried coconuts that made the long trip to earth and there they rot because nobody needs them. For all their faults, though, coconuts are important to atoll life. Turning them into biofuel is probably criminal.
The tropics is where complexity goes to die. As you say nothing can stand up to the battering of the elements and is why there are so many broken things in equatorial Oceania. If they were to park RTGs every 500′ there the people would find a way to break them or the elements would. And perfect power like RTGs are probably the worst thing that can happen there anyway. The atolls by nature force residents to fight daily for their lives. Anything that makes life easier will cause population expansion and the one thing none of the atolls can allow is unmoderated population growth.
The Pacific ocean has zillions of islands where there are no residents. More can be made very quickly by growing populations to the tripping point. Case in point: Hawaii’s population cannot survive without massive world support. We are one thunderous world war or economic collapse away from Hawaii losing that support at which time getting out fast will be critical. When enough people have left or died and a supportable population remains, Hawaii will once again become the home of fishermen and gatherers.

Power Grab
August 9, 2012 9:25 pm

@ gravity32: I’m all over it (coconut oil, that is). I learned about its benefits 10 years ago. Also learned about the scam at that time. When I learned the truth about saturated fat and what healthy people groups traditionally eat, I was able to avoid chaining myself and my family to the medical establishment.
You know, too many things are being run the way that scam is/was. In fact, these days I’m telling my friends that I can see that the politicians/bureaucrats and media mavens are in cahoots – even if they will not admit it. I figure they both have the same motivation: keep stirring the pot and promoting things that nurture a culture of death and sickness, so as to keep the level of strife and crime high. When the level of strife and crime is high, they stay busier and make more money.

August 9, 2012 9:32 pm

Willis Eschenbach responded to James from Arding

… 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…

And one more slight issue with Hydrogen… enhanced metal fatigue. That’s why specialized piping and tanks have to be used that are resistant to this annoying little molecule that tends to react with whatever metal it comes in contact with.

August 9, 2012 10:27 pm

? Got atolls ?
Outer swell can move a bouy with integrated drive for generating current.
See the video http://www.oceanpowertechnologies.com/technology.htm

August 9, 2012 10:36 pm

The Bellis and Morcom is a Rolls-Royce of marine steam gensets: totally enclosed, quiet, superbly built. There was one in the Darfield brickworks in Canterbury, New Zealand fed by a rocker-grate marine bolier. All power for the whole works was produced by the one genset, and the exhaust steam and stack heat dried the clay bricks pre-oven. Old man Boyes ran the show, to the eternal regret of the local Power Board. Showed me through it with quiet pride. His sons run the show now, and I wouldn’t bet the farm on the genset’s survival.

Grey Lensman
August 9, 2012 10:47 pm

dp said
Coconuts in the raw are not good for your heart. Refined, it is good for you and for your brain. Raw coconut is better than no fresh food at all, though, and using that to generate energy seems a cruel fate.
Well done, 100% false. Suggest you look up the facts., you might be surprised.
Using it for fuel is basically criminal.

James from Arding
August 9, 2012 10:57 pm

Brian H says:
August 9, 2012 at 8:33 pm
Appreciate that you read the link Brian H…
It seems to me that the major problem with solar and wind power is the cost of storage of that energy, or in other words “the base load problem”. I have been watching the company that I linked to (I have no financial interest in it BTW) for some years now and having bought one of their dinky little toy cars for fun and interest – I feel that they have a very sound strategy. Start with smaller systems including the education market, develop the technology, build expertise and capital and expand. The electricity can be generated through any source to electrolyse water and produce Hydrogen.
As Willis points out Hydrogen is hard to store but that was the point of the link – these guys have two options;
One is a type of cylinder with a metal hydride matrix which they claim works effectively to give a significantly higher energy density than any chemical battery technology and is rechargeable from electrolysis units they sell, the other is a system using some form of hydrate which you add water on demand to produce H2. I don’t know if this is a rechargeable system or not. Once you have the H2 they have a range of fuel cell technology up to many kW to produce electricity. The smaller systems are available now (just released to market) and more to come in the future.
I thought it might be interesting to some of the readers here at WUWT who may not have heard of these systems. Maybe not……

August 9, 2012 11:11 pm

thanks for the feedback willis. couple of things. compared to manure grass is a way better biogas fuel maybe 5x better. cow gut sucks all the energy out leaving a poor biogas fuel. also in tropics dont need to insulate/heat reactor can just use a bag or covered lagoon. given way weeds grow in tropics could be way to go.

August 9, 2012 11:15 pm

Willis: please don’t ever lose this line:

“It is a hesitation in a storm-driven river of coral sand and rubble.”

D. Cohen
August 9, 2012 11:33 pm

I was struck by your observation about human behavior in the tropical Pacific
“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.”
If you look at the abstract given in
it suggests this connection between uniform good climate and fewer demands for intelligent human behavior has been significantly affecting our evolution since the end of the last ice age.

August 10, 2012 12:19 am

An interesting article. I lived and worked on the Bahamian island of South Andros for 3 years and the comments brought back many memories of frustration, despair and resigned acceptance of
‘sunny’ insouciance.

Joe Prins
August 10, 2012 12:20 am

One side I did not yet see in this discussion, although tangentially refered to, is: Who asked for this and more important, why? From the article: “A key to the success of the project is that solar electric panels (photovoltaics) have decreased in price worldwide…………..New Zealand-based company PowerSmart is designing and installing the project, which is made up of three (one for each atoll) photovoltaic-based mini-grids that include battery storage……” Being somewhat cynical, I would suggest that the foreign “aid” is more designed to help the folks at Powersmart then the New Zealand “citizens” of Tokelau. Especially since the good inhabitants of that island nation do not vote in New Zealand elections, but Powersmart employees do. Keeping them employed by giving away solar panels to a nation earns brownie points at the UN. Keeps N.Z. gov. employees going for holidays for photo opps. Keeps the politician in the limelight for doing “good” deeds. It is a win-win-win situation. Except, as noted, for the taxpayer who has to come up with the dollar.

August 10, 2012 1:17 am

Sir Winston Churchill, radio broadcast, 21 March 1943 – “There is no finer investment for any community than putting milk into babies.”

August 10, 2012 1:21 am

D. Cohen:
At August 9, 2012 at 11:33 pm you say:

If you look at the abstract given in
it suggests this connection between uniform good climate and fewer demands for intelligent human behavior has been significantly affecting our evolution since the end of the last ice age.

Say what!
Most people think “intelligent human behaviour” is acting in ways that add most happiness to your life and the lives of those around you.
It seems that you think “intelligent human behaviour” is acting like you and/or in ways you like.
In this thread several people have explained your error. For example, Robert of Ottawa says at August 9, 2012 at 3:55 pmL:

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?”.

Evolution decrees that diversity is good: it maximises species survival when confronted with environmental change. Evolution does not decree that your preferred way of life is “intelligent”.

August 10, 2012 1:27 am

Nice article, very evocative.
Waves are liquid wind and therefore have the same inconstancy problems. Tides have predictable energy generation and a device that combines the two would be useful, especially in a country like the UK which, being an island, is ideally placed to harvest energy from its oceans. Unfortunately you mentioned some of the drawbacks, a key one being that the power of the sea is awesome and they tend to wreck any the generating devices that have the effrontery to sit on top of it.
The technology is twenty years behind wind hence the rush to wind in order to meet ‘urgent’ co2 reduction targets.

August 10, 2012 1:46 am

I hope your contributors will read what they have written about the Pacific Islander cultural with a more jaundiced eye. The cultural prejudice is remarkable. The “Great White Hope” comes through loud and clear. I have lived in Hawaii for over 30 years as a professional scientist (astronomer) and have nothing but extreme admiration for a culture that could not leave the stone age – there is no copper for bronze nor iron for steel. Yet they sailed between islands thousands of miles apart with out sextant, compass or North Star. Everything of use is made from vegetation, stone or bone. And everything, except the stone, quickly decays – so why maintain? Many of our “white man” cultural practices would appear equally strange to a space traveler: drill for oil? dig for coal? How quaint. And your systems only last for what? A few decades before you tear them down and start over? When will the natives ever learn?

August 10, 2012 2:02 am

Nice post, but the real issue (as you mentioned) is that these islands are only still functioning because of aid programs and remittances from relatives. The real game is that they are pawns in power plays in places like the UN, where a dot in the Pacific with less people than a suburb in LA or London or Sydney has an equal vote because it is called a nation.
The NZ government, like all others, is just using its aid policy as an extension of foreign policy. The reality is that an island group like the one you describe (and there are quite a few of them in the Pacific) is never, ever, going to be financially viable in modern terms – unless it is taken over by a greater power for something like a military base.
I was interested to read above that Hawaii (which has a large military presence) would not be viable without the support of the contiguous states. The fact is, even in the age of the internet, things like food, medicine and fuel still have to be transported very long distances to these places, and coconuts and solar panels won’t fix it. And, there is zero chance of them ever having doctors or engineers or hospitals or even tradespeople such as we rely on every day.
On a cost/benefit basis, it would undoubtedly be better to give each house a generator and ship in the fuel. The pragmatism Willis mentioned was demonstrated in an Australian TV series called ‘Bush Mechanics’, where motivated Aboriginal people in remote areas fixed their cars with desert grass and bits of wire and anything else that was available. I bet that the locals would soon figure out how to keep them going, if it was important to them.

August 10, 2012 2:28 am

dalyplanet says:
August 9, 2012 at 8:23 pm
“@ DirkH
To make a simplified analogy, in cold climates the ant gene survives and the grasshopper gene does not, leaving far more ants than grasshoppers when the conditions are right for development/ enlightenment.”
I get your point but I think it is not the driving force of human development. We don’t develop only via genetic mechanisms; since we have developed ways of cultural evolution (or information exchange) that are much faster.
Thinking further, is it not so that Europe was able to shift into a higher development gear during the MWP because it had a far higher number of brains than, say, Tokelau? Giving us a much higher probability of getting a Newton, an Einstein, a Da Vinci?
Look at the other ancient highly developed empire – China. By and large, not too cold, but highly populated even in ancient times.
Evolution, whether genetic or on the cultural/technological level, likes big numbers. Makes for a large number of trials.

August 10, 2012 2:37 am

(or David Powell says:)
Excellent article, Thank you.
As to the question of who wanted the project, my suspicion is that a commercial consortium is behind the scheme, which likely resulted as an outcome of lobbied NZ politics with a mix of pressure over eco-policies, commitments and objectives. As Willis points out when seen outside of artificial objectives the project on multiple levels defies rational logic.
I am I confess not a scientist in the modern sense, neither am I an engineer, however if one recalls the Latin root of “science” – scire – is “to Know ” and in that sense I am immensely practical and knowledgeable. I have run construction projects for 30 years and when necessary have drilled my arguments into highly recognised architects, engineers, surveyors and an multitude of consultants – because I have found out, learnt – frequently the hard way – what works and what doesn’t.
My most recent projects have been in the Gulf States of the Middle East – where, as alluded to above, 30 story structures (+ several sub levels) are built on artificial surfaces or even sand! (Subsidence is a major issue, and the majority are not expected to last more than 20 years). These projects are highly labour and resource intensive, and made possible largely by the absence of ecological legislation and the skewed metrics of the labour market / exploitation of cheap (mainly) Asian workers. Such projects on Coral Atols are as suggested flights of fantasy but also ecological disasters. HOWEVER – what IS successful from lessons of the Gulf are the Heat Exchanger (H.E.) method of keeping such 30 story structures cool. These Glass/Concrete and Steel buildings inhabit 45ºC or more air temperatures yet can maintain Air Conditioned internal environments of 21º C by Heat Exchanger systems run with pumped seawater- a form of Geothermal Energy (G.E.) in this context. There is an environmental cost as seawater in the Gulf city areas are devoid of sea life due to the returning seawater being of high temperature, however in an Atol with small population (as opposed to multiple city blocks with excess of 1million or more) such a “heat sink” is not likely to be such an issue. There is also the Pacific Ocean, rather than Gulf of Arabia, so vast cooler deeper waters can be reached to provide energy, which is the real issue.
H.E. / G.E. provide a temperature differential, which in turn delivers energy/work and can be linked to multiple alternatives to provide for islander’s energy wants. Air Compressors (portable energy) -for light industrial use, impellers/dynamo’s for light power/ light electrical use, and larger Turbines for heavy industrial use. What should be remembered is the 24 hour cycles of sea water temperature changes and underwater thermocline layers and varying water pressures at such levels which may be accessed at different times of day or night.
Whilst the “beyond tomorrow” argument may stand up in some contexts, there is certainly a grasp of the need for energy – diesel – and any motor requires some maintenance, so a planning mentality has developed or no motors would exist. What appears to be the issue in the technology context is the educative adjustment and depth of understanding to the workings of new machinery. The majority of the Gulf region’s breathtaking building structures (and the mechanical systems within them) have, and are being built by uneducated farm workers. They are patiently taught, mentored (or sometimes terrorised) by western engineers and specialists until they understand the exacting needs of the systems they are installing. The real answers in the needs of the islanders I suspect are of education of a similar nature.
With Thanks.
David Powell.

August 10, 2012 2:40 am

I agree with your analysis Willis. I wrote this article, published in the Calgary Herald, in 2002, in opposition to the now-defunct Kyoto Protocol.
My conclusions on climate and energy still seem valid, even after a decade. By comparison, almost every major conclusion written by the IPCC has proven false and even fraudulent:
– The Mann hokey schtick, the Divergence Problem, Mike’s Nature trick, Hide the Decline; the ClimateGate letters;
– Contrary to IPCC projections, there has been NO net global warming for a decade or more, and no evidence of wilder weather, more hurricanes, or tornados;
– “Green energy “ technologies have failed to produce significant amounts of useful net energy.
If the IPCC gurus were practicing medicine, they would have already been dismissed as quacks.
A trillion dollars of scarce global resources has been squandered on climate and energy nonsense, and we have been misled by scoundrels and imbeciles.
Best regards, Allan
Since the long-term goal of Kyoto activists is to eliminate fossil fuels, let’s examine their logic.
Fossil fuels, consisting of oil, natural gas and coal, account for 87 per cent of the world’s primary energy production, with 13 per cent coming from nuclear and hydroelectricity. Is it possible to replace such an enormous quantity of fossil fuels?
Hydrogen is not an answer — it is secondary energy like electricity, but it must be made from primary energy such as fossil fuels, nuclear or hydro.
Conservation is a good solution, but Canada has been aggressively improving our energy efficiency for 30 years and we will continue to do so, in response to rising energy prices. Significant improvements have been achieved in heating and insulation of homes, vehicle mileage and industrial energy efficiency. However, we live in a cold climate and our country is vast, so there are practical limits to energy conservation.
Kyoto activists want taxpayers to subsidize renewable energy from solar, geothermal, wind power and biomass to replace fossil fuels. Is this sensible?
Even after many decades of technological improvement, the energy generated by the typical “green” technology in its entire lifetime still does not add up to the energy used to manufacture and operate it. ….
Green energy technologies such as wind and solar are simply too diffuse and intermittent, so they will never replace a significant amount of fossil fuels.

August 10, 2012 2:42 am

Brian H says:
August 9, 2012 at 8:33 pm
“Islanders have developed a way of life that is “on the edge” but not over it. They have made a local peace with Malthus. Attempting to upgrade to a technological modern economy is a dead end. IMO.”
Mind if I call you a misogynist. Reduction in child mortality = “upgrade to a technological modern economy”.

August 10, 2012 3:16 am

Agree ” …lifetime of the batteries and the inverters will not be large.”
I deal with daily long blackouts at my island place. (Curiously, I exported sacks of dry coconuts to Europe 20 years ago in consolidated container loads; no spoilage enroute – like lost shipment of bananas to).
My used truck radiator cooled stationary diesel generator is a used 15 Kw Japanese Kubota tractor motor driving onto a thick rubber coupling made from a giant tire to spin a 120 Volt AC generating alternator rated for 10 Kw. (Before ever used the generating alternator repeatedly painted the interior coils with varnish so heat less likely to damage it.)
Let’s assume the project techs will know about de-sulfating their batteries ….
Inverters fortunately are usually repairable – as long as spare components can be obtained to cobble into place. A smaller back-up has proven worthwhile to me, since their repair time is unpredicatble – after a few times taken apart they don’t look so picture pretty. (Locals I’ve known even work the inverter copper coils up to spec winding them with a jury-rigged bicycle wheel.)
My hope is that Tokelau project includes up-front funding to shift into DC electrification (like 12V refrigeration compressors & LED lights) instead of wasting energy converting from battery DC to run only AC appliances off of their inverters. Soldering wire will become a trading commodity among the atolls!

August 10, 2012 3:20 am

oops … my Kubota tractor runs at HP horse power (not Kw)

Warren in New Zealand
August 10, 2012 3:26 am

After spending 2 frustrating years in Honiara, I think Willis has barely touched on the failing infrastructure and the culture. Power cuts are a frequent and daily occurrence, due to at least one of the 3 diesel generators supplying Honiara being down for repairs, usually necessitating a 3 month wait for parts, the water supply is cut off due to the pumps failing, or the reservoirs being drained by a multitude of illegal connections, the roads such as they are seem to be a collection of potholes joined together.
The mindset of everyone is governed by, “what can I eat today”, tomorrow is so far into the future that very few people take or spend any time in considering the future past their next meal.
As Willis describes, solar cells and batteries have a short life there, the batteries are run completely flat, it was common to find the reason your vehicle didn’t start on any morning was because the battery had been removed overnight to replace someones dead solar battery. At a replacement cost of SBD$1,000, when the average wage was SBD$4.00 per hour, acquiring batteries is a national pastime.
Once you settle in though and accept that nothing is going to change, you will find the following helpful
Solomon Island Time definitions
Einstein never visited the Solomons, if he had the Theory of Relativity would be vastly different. Time is an elastic substance here, it bears no resemblance to time as measured elsewhere. The following definitions are an approximation of life here.
Today. A word fraught with danger for those new to the country. It is loosely tied to the calendar, eg. Today is Monday, after this is wanders down a twisting turning road of its own choosing. The phrase “I will do it today” has so many non-verbal clauses attached as to be meaningless,
“I will do it today………………
if my wantoks don’t borrow my hammer/spanner/saw/workboots/car
if I am going past the shop/store/factory
when I am next in town
when my wantok bring back my saw/hammer/workboots
Tomorrow. It means “not today”. It has no further meaning nor validity in the conversation, other than as a starting point for the inevitable discussion 3 days later about why something wasn’t done yesterday.
Soon. This is a danger signal, if something is going to be done “soon”, you are best off going on that 3 month trip to the outer islands, possibly extending the trip to take in Vanuatu, New Caledonia and if finances allow, Rarotonga. On your return, you will be greeted with the words, “It is almost finished” or in exceptional circumstances the word “soon” will be added. “It will be finished soon, maybe tomorrow” cf.
Urgent. Never use the word “urgent” in any conversation, it is a confusing word having neither meaning nor relevance to life here. “Urgent” will be placed in an ever changing priority list, it may rise to the top 5 places at times, but is always trumped by wantok.
Now. If something is going to be done “now”, I would advise bringing a packed lunch, and making arrangements to stay overnight. “Now” is usually found in close conjunction with “Today”, and if anything, it serves to expand the possible descriptors and conditions attached to “today”
Maybe. If you hear “maybe” in any sentence, the chances of something happening equate in equal proportion to a snowballs chance in a volcano. “Maybe” has no legal standing here, it is a word used to bridge the gap between “today” “tomorrow” and “soon” and is used to amplify the clauses, conditions and special arrangements between those words. “Maybe today” means “tomorrow”, “maybe tomorrow” is straying dangerously close to ‘soon”, and “maybe soon” is a phrase of such ludicrous complexity as to be totally meaningless.

John Marshall
August 10, 2012 3:36 am

Good post. But what is wrong with diesel anyway? CO2 is no problem, according to the real science, so this form of power would be ideal and release the coconuts to help feed the children.

Paul Carter
August 10, 2012 4:03 am

According to an article on the subject from last week ( http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/south-pacific/7408149/Tokelau-to-shed-diesel-dependence ) Tokelau uses about 200 litres of fuel daily.
To replace that diesel will require an awful lot of coconuts and solar power.
Tokelau is the main reason the Realm of New Zealand is one of the last remaining colonial Empires. So the odd 6 million dollars in aid is a triflingly small price to pay to retain an Empire. Throughout history much greater prices have been paid for far less lovely Empires.

Doug Huffman
August 10, 2012 5:01 am

“But what is wrong with diesel anyway?” “It was now no longer possible to speak, as had been the case since 1988, of a probable risk of cancer (“probably carcinogenic to humans”). Reclassification followed on 12 June 2012. Diesel soot is now considered a cause of lung cancer “based on sufficient evidence”; what’s more, there is a certain probability that diesel soot also increases the risk of bladder cancer. (http://phys.org/news/2012-08-x-ray-experts-decode-diesel-soot.html)”
ATM there is a meme on the web of the Norwegian-ant dooming the grasshopper’s EU and its economy.

August 10, 2012 6:07 am

Completely off topic to your interesting post Willis, but perhaps of interest
A HUGE cluster of floating volcanic rocks covering almost 26,000 square kilometres has been found drifting in the Pacific, the New Zealand navy said today.
Nauru had similar issues in many ways to the Tokelau.
In East Arnhemland, Australia the local ‘tribal’ people re-diverted a government pin-coded PABX system to another community some 800 kms away. Presumably to tap in to the drug trade there.
My experience working in, not visiting these places, is that local tribal structures which serve to deliver total control for a few families over many others can be exploited for maximum advantage (if one wishes to do so).
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.
My suggestion for these remote atolls, and oddly just sent to me in the last few days would be this below, given the economy which media and such consumption and anthropology has delivered for decades to most of these places. Whether this has been to any benefit I am not clear, rising sea levels seems to have made some impact on the general collection plate more recently.

Pamela Gray
August 10, 2012 7:11 am

Wonder if there is geothermal energy down the hole of atolls. Drill for hot water or steam. Wala. Energy.

August 10, 2012 7:17 am

Mike Sphar says: August 9, 2012 at 3:05 pm: […] Paradise can be beautiful but it also has another face which appears occasionally.
Hmm. Which is why someone said ecologists should be left naked in a Borneo jungle for a week to know better about Mother Nature. Sort of a graduation trip.

August 10, 2012 7:28 am

New Zealand should be held accountable for the spread of lead pollution.

Don E
August 10, 2012 8:36 am

Many countries send out young people with Phd’s and Master’s degrees to help the pacific islanders. They design wonderful systems that work beautifully until a fuse blows that no one knows how to change. I recall that every time I would visit one of these islands, the locals would proudly show me their five year plan that someone helped them write. They did not understand the plan or intend to implement it, but it made the howlies smile.
BTW, as I recall it was the Fiji Islanders who provided the best assistance with the most appropriate technology. And there were Korean farmers who provided the best help with agricultural technology.

August 10, 2012 9:41 am

eo says:
August 9, 2012 at 3:36 pm
…Dont worry about the nutrition related issue. Surely New Zealand dairy industry is already in the queue to fill the gap.

Aren’t a lot of pacific islanders lactose intolerant?

August 10, 2012 10:06 am

Warren (in NZ) you can always sing like Dean Martin to Peggy Lee’s tune:
“…The faucet it is dripping and the fence is falling down,
My pocket needs some money so I can’t go into town,
My brother he ain’t working and my sister doesn’t care,
The car it needs a motor so I can’t go anywhere –
…Manana, manana, manana is soon enough for me”
“…The window it is busted and the rain is coming in,
If someone doesn’t fix it I’ll be soaking to my skin,
But if we wait a day or two the rain may go away,
And we don’t need a window on such a lovely day –
Manana, manana, manana is soon enough for me
Manana, manana, manana is soon enough for me”

Matthew R Marler
August 10, 2012 10:07 am

Willis: 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.
I agree, but in your telling “parachute projects” are all that NZ provides, making the island a sort of colony of NZ.

William Larson
August 10, 2012 10:12 am

And here we are, deep in the bowels of this thread, where no one actually reads. Our only hope here is that you, Mr. Eschenbach, will deign to read this and respond. But why should you? Why would you? All that I have to say here is that I read somewhere, sometime ago (note the citing and the direct link), that one big reason that hydrogen will never make it as power for cars is that they can’t get the hydrogen pure enough! (Apparently, the impurities clog the membrane.) Well, that’s it, folks. Back to sleep.

August 10, 2012 10:43 am

JamesS says:
August 9, 2012 at 5:51 pm – Little Feat

Thanks for that. I thought I was the only one that remembered Little Feat and “Time Loves A Hero”.

August 10, 2012 10:46 am

Excellent article, Thanks, Willis!

Gail Combs
August 10, 2012 10:59 am

Let’s see, SOMEONE is going to get the contract to build that installations. I wonder what his connection is to the politicians who pushed the solar installation? Follow the money on this deal could be quite interesting. [I am getting more and more cynical about CAGW & Sustainability]

Warren in New Zealand
August 10, 2012 2:04 pm

NZ Herald article about the installation
Tokelau is made up of three atolls – Fakaofo, Nukunonu and Atafu – with Fakaofo the first to become fully solar powered this week.
Powersmart director Mike Bassett-Smith said the project would allow Tokelau to become the first wholly solar-powered nation on earth.
“This system is among the largest off-grid solar power systems in the world and the largest solar system being installed the South Pacific.”
After turning on the first system on Fakaofo, construction work would now begin on the second atoll.

August 10, 2012 2:41 pm

Reblogged this on thewordpressghost and commented:
This was a great post.
IMHO that was.
It pointed out many of the inconstancies in our modern economies. We expect people to pay HUGE amounts of public debt back. Debt that does not directly result from their investment.
We expect solar to always work.
We expect maintenance to not be needed. What? I was supposed to change the oil in my car?
Great read.

August 10, 2012 6:10 pm

Long story short: if you want Western technology to work consistently over the long term, you need it to be consistently maintained by Westerners over the same period. Preventive maintenance is an alien philosophy to lots of people raised in generally benign climates. It’s very hard to train the fear of future problems and deprivation into people whose cultural outlook barely extends into tomorrow.

Stephen Rasey
August 10, 2012 11:01 pm

I wonder if there is a practical small modular solar technology, either PV, of solar still, that will increase the availability of fresh water on the atol.
It has been commented before in many threads that the effort to turn wind power into 60 Hz electricity sync’d to the grid is a poor use of the power. However direct Wind to mechanical pumping has been a successful technology for hundreds of years.
Perhaps we should think of solar power in remote areas in similar fashion. Fresh water on a pacific atol could be a most valuable resource. It might be the secret to a more bountiful agriculture.

Bill Parsons
August 11, 2012 9:19 pm

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.

Well… U.S. government (known) debt to GDP ratios reached 100.67% first quarter of 2012, first time since the spike in spending after World War II. CBO’s projection shows us closing in on 200% by 2030, and the hockey stick blade still going up. If it weren’t for my renewable energy investments and plans for carbon trading in retirement I’d be genuinely concerned.
Which way to that fishing lagoon, again?

August 11, 2012 9:20 pm

Excellent article and comments. But why are “we” involved in their lives? Their minds are not like ours. They cannot successfully adopt our ways. They live where and as they do by choice. They aren’t hurting anyone. Why not just let them be?

Stephen Rasey
August 11, 2012 10:18 pm

…Didn’t mean to imply above that you can pump fresh water from the subsurface.
It might be possible to use solar PV power to pump salt water through reverse osmosis to obtain fresh water. But I wonder if reverse osmosis is too mechanical to survive long on an atol.
Can a solar still, or multi-stage desalination be made to be near maintenance free, typhoon survivable, with solar PV to power pumps, and provide enough freshwater to make a difference?

August 12, 2012 1:12 am

Harvesting a nit: As the panels will most likely be aluminum, not iron, I don’t think “rust” is the right description of their fate… Having lived on a 27 footer for a couple of years, just about everything either oxidized or mold ate it. Metal near warm humid salt water means either endless and continuous maintenance ( with Expensive and Imported cleaners, lubricants, protective sprays, …) or an interesting pile of very pretty colored oxides and chlorates… Even stainless steel starts to pit after a while… But I suppose for general use equating “rust” with oxidize and make chlorates is ‘close enough’ 😉
Per the solar panels, I have one word: Typhoon.
I’d not want to bet that a large sail like object will survive the first encounter with a Very Strong Wind… Hopefully they are not installed ‘upwind’ from the houses…
Per Coconut Oil and Diesels:
Yes, you can run them on plant oils and coconut is better than most… HOWEVER, it is best if the engine is purpose built for it, second best if the oil is heated a lot first, and in all cases be prepared for more maintenance inside the engine… ( that nice ‘seasoning’ you get on a cast iron cooking pan is not so helpful inside your engine…)
I’ve run plant (and animal) products in diesels since before it was trendy. I mostly run #2 Petroleum Diesel now…
In the local store, coconut oil sells for about $4 / pound. That would be about $32 / gallon. The Kiwis would be doing much better for everyone if they took the coconut oil, sold it in California, bought Diesel, and split the $24 or so profit / gallon with the islanders…

George E. Smith;
August 12, 2012 1:31 am

Willis, only in scale does your description of the brave future of Tokelau, differ from that depicted by Barry Sotello, coming here to the USA, in perhaps five months or so, and the same question can be asked; who the hell asked for this ?
As for the practicality of PV Solar; we have the example of “Solar City”. They put THEIR solar panels on YOUR roof, and generate some electricity, which they run backwards through YOUR electric meter to PG&E, who then sells YOU electricity at a discount. So what the hell do YOU care about how infficient THEIR solar panels are ?
I have a much better business model to offer to Solar City, or anyone else.
Let’s say for example, in NorCal, I have 100 square metres (1000 sq ft) of south facing roof area appropriately slanted to receive 100,000 Watts peak of noon day equinoxial solar energy, with clear skyline permitting a full 8 hours at more than 50,000 Watts, centered on noon.
So I will rent this 100 KW nominal peak solar energy source to SC for so much per 800KWH day; (I’ll let you young math majors do the trig integral to calculate the true insolation factor, for my place.
The going rate for raw solar insolation is of course set by the energy market, and can be found in WSJ or BARRONS each day, or just giggle it online.
So now Solar City can install their (stationary) solar panels in my valuable solar insolation space, and rent my solar energy, which THEY can keep for themselves or run it backwards through THEIR power meter, and piggy back it onto PG&E’s power line coming to my house OUTSIDE MY POWER METER.
So SC can negotiate a selling price to PG&E for electricity, which California says they have to switch to. So leave me out of it. SC can rent my space to mine my incoming solar energy, and they can make electricity or whatever out of some of it (I don’t care how much or how little), and I will just buy my juice from PG&E like I do now.
So SC can make their fortune , and I can sell my solar insolation to someone who wants it at the going solar energy market rate.
If SC can make a better solar panel with higher efficiency, I don’t mind them swtching units occasionally so they can get even richer, and I cn get a little beer money now and then selling my daily 800KWH solar energy to them.
Works for me !

George E. Smith;
August 12, 2012 1:50 am

“””””…..jim2 says:
August 10, 2012 at 7:28 am
New Zealand should be held accountable for the spread of lead pollution……”””””
So now where did you see this lead pollution ???
I wasn’t aware that growing coconuts involved lead; and solar cells certainly don’t. Have you noticed all the new electric cars running around with tons of lead acid batteries ??
I think you jim2 should be held accountable for WUWT noise pollution.
Maybe I found the lead pollution. It’s those pesky lead sinkers the Tokelauans use to catch all that fish for tomorrow.
No heck! That ain’t it either; they use old spark plugs for sinkers; no lead there !

August 12, 2012 1:20 pm

Wave, if you like scaleable technology:
(see concepts at link especially if a do-it-yourselfer)
I’ve long retired from being on the sea &
parrot the wag who said:
“It is better to have sailed, than to sail!”

Brian Wilshire
August 13, 2012 8:05 am

The land is only a few metres above sea level. Don’t they ever experience tsunamis?

August 13, 2012 9:39 am

Hi Brian W.:
29 Sept. 2009 an 8.3 earthquake’s tsunami hit Samoa:
“…On the island of Nukunono in Tokelau, preparations are under way in case any big waves arrive after this morning’s earthquake. The acting faipule or mayor of Nukunono, Mika Perez, says the men are bringing boats to shore and moving families inland.”

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