Renewable energy in Tonga is essential for long-term economic growth as the nation will rely on sustainable and dependable resources instead of unsustainable and environmentally harmful energy sources, like fossil fuels. In 2018, the Kingdom of Tonga took second ranking as the “most climate vulnerable country in the world,” a situation that the country’s reliance on non-renewable energy resources has exacerbated.
The Situation in Numbers
In 2015, 28% of Tonga’s population lived under the poverty line of $5.50 a day. In 1994, 80% of Tonga had access to electricity, a percentage that rose to 100% in 2020. However, in 2016, just 59% of the population had access to clean cooking fuels. Furthermore, 100% of the electricity in Tonga came from fossil fuels in 2020. The social and economic development of the island is at risk without sustainable energy, but there are plans for the Government of Tonga to reach its goal of “poverty alleviation” through access to reliable electricity for all.
The small island’s land size is 748,5 km² with a population of more than 105,000 people. Geography, size and susceptibility to natural disasters make it more challenging for the country to transition to renewable energy, however, change is already taking place.
In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly came up with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all” across the world by 2030. Tonga is looking to achieve SDG 7, “access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, ” through the introduction of renewable energy sources, which will, in turn, improve the living standards in the country.
SDG 7 urges movement away from diesel and fossil fuels as these are not environmentally or economically sustainable. Tonga is one of the “first countries in the region” to establish a roadmap in order to achieve SDG 7 by 2030 with an emphasis on renewable energy that will help all aspects of the country.
Economics of Renewable Energy in Tonga
Tonga can mitigate poverty through a shift toward renewable energy in Tonga. According to ARUP, approximately 80% of Tonga’s energy comes from diesel, which stifles the growth of Tonga’s economy. In 2012, fuel accounted for 10% of the GDP and 25% of imports by value. These percentages make Tonga vulnerable as diesel is not a reliable source and will not serve to improve social and economic growth.
Low-cost, green and dependable energy is essential for a better future on the island. Oil prices are volatile, hence a sudden increase in price can hurt Tonga’s economy. The reliance on diesel prevents long-term and stable improvements. The lack of reliable energy also prevents businesses from growing. Without reliable, accessible and sustainable energy, Tonga cannot truly make strides in poverty reduction.
Policy as a Solution
The SDG 7 Roadmap for Tonga has several specific policy step recommendations for Tonga’s future.
- Access to clean cooking is one of the main areas where improvement is necessary. Around 35% of the island’s population does not have clean cooking technology. The purchase of $100,000 worth of liquified petroleum gas cooking stoves subsidized by the Government of Tonga is recommended for Tonga to reach universal access to clean cooking by 2030.
- The most cost-effective choice for the future is to avoid diesel-fired power and switch to renewables.
- Greater investment in solar and wind energy will help Tonga’s transition to renewable energy-based electricity production.
- Energy improvement surpassing SDG 7 is possible for Tonga and can prevent fuel import reliance. Through low-cost actions like changing to electric transport, using efficient lighting and better fuel economy practices, Tonga can see speedy returns on investments.
The transition to renewable energy in Tonga is in progress, with the island’s government setting the goal of 50% renewable energy reliance by 2020 and 70% by 2030.
The Green Climate Fund approved the Tonga Renewable Energy Project in October 2018. The 25-year-long project is currently under implementation, with the goal of moving away from fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy. On the main island, “the project will deliver utility-scale storage systems to provide base load response and grid stability.” On the outer islands, green mini-grids will undergo installation. Through this process, the project has already avoided more than 265,000 tonnes of emissions. According to the Green Climate Fund, “While stabilizing the grid, this project will particularly address the intermittency of variable renewable energy sources, thus laying the foundation for private sector investments in renewable energy in Tonga.”
Renewable energy in Tonga is possible and can significantly impact the future of the economy. Reaching 100% access to electricity is a major feat, so keeping up the progress with renewable energy is essential. In effect, renewable energy will lower the poverty rate as renewable energy is abundant and less expensive after the initial investments.
– Ann Shick