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  • Writer's pictureBanaban Voice

Renewable Energy Rabi Island, Fiji

Past and Present


The following proposal together with layout plans for the electrification of Tabwewa Village, Rabi Island (1) was lodged by John V. Koster on behalf of the people of Tabwewa Village in 1996, with the Fiji Ministry of Energy. The Ministry informed the village that the application had been processed and will take about 3 - 4 years before it could be implemented.


  • We have 24 - 2 bedroom concrete houses which were built by the previous Council.

  • The houses have a pitched and horizontal roof.

  • Each house has requested 4 lights; 2 for Bedrooms, 1 Living Room and 1 for Kitchen

  • We have about 186 - 195 people in our village of which 10 are in Kindergarten, 35 in Primary School and 28 in High School. Our High School students leave the village at about 6.30 am and arrive back home around 6.30 - 7 pm on the last available bus, but at times they have to walk to and from the School nine miles when the bus is not available. This gives them very little time for study and doing schoolwork at home because our lights are taken up with the family’s preparation for meals and this usually carries on until about 8.30 - 9 pm each evening or even longer at times.

  • Our lights are mainly kerosene lamps or oil bottle lamps.

We have requested a 13 K.V.A. Lister Engine for Generation which costs $13,200 Fiji from Clyde Equipment, Suva.

Prices are as follows (based on John’s costings in 1996):-

5 x K.V.A.-$ 9,000

9 x K.V.A.-$10,050

X13 x K.V.A.-$13,200

Carpenters Motors - Yanmar

10 x K.V.A.-$11,015

12 x K.V.A.-$11,236

Niranzan Supplies-Yanmar

8 x K.V.A.-$10,000

We hope this information will give more understanding of the plight of electricity for our village. We look forward to your assistance and guidance, which will enable us to make this worthy project a reality for us and our future generations.

John Koster - Tabwewa Village, Rabi. 17th. Oct ‘96 (1)

At the time, the above project was given to David Lambert, at Reshape (Rainbow Power Company, Australia) (2) who ran a regular column in the Banaba/Ocean Island News, ‘A Simple Solution’ (1) where he made an assessment of this particular Village Electrification Project. David raised some very good points and questions that needed to be answered to develop an overall plan for these type of village schemes.


This proposal raises many social, technical and economic considerations both long and short term. At the moment lighting is mostly from kerosene lanterns which are very expensive. According to WHO (World Health Organisation) studies, kerosene light is 5 times more expensive than solar-powered lighting over a 5 year period. Kerosene lighting is also dangerous to health. There is now a proposal to 'electrify' the village with either solar or diesel.

The first issue to resolve is what is to be run off the electricity. I would suggest to the village that this be limited to 4 fluoro lights and an outlet for a 6-12 volt radio/cassette recorder in each house. To provide power for fridges, television and other appliances would greatly add to the cost of either a diesel or solar system and it is unlikely that such funding will be available in the foreseeable future.

If some additional funding were to become available in the future, I would suggest that appliances such as a VCR/TV, fridge, sewing machine or power tools be regarded as a community facility. Those appliances could be placed in a community centre for everyone's communal benefit. This would help keep the village together as a community rather than having these appliances in a few village houses for individual use.

I have looked at a rough costing for the diesel reticulated system and individual one panel solar systems for each house.

A small diesel would cost about $13,000 (based on costings in 1996). The cost of materials (no labour) to reticulate the power, install fuse boards (no meters), lights and switches are estimated at $17,500 (delivered to Suva). You would also have to allow say $500 for a shed to house the diesel. So the total cost of the diesel system (excluding all labour and trenching) is about AUD$31,000. Labour (skilled) would be about 150 hours (excluding about 150 hours (excluding trenching).

The cost of the solar system (including batteries, solar panels, lights, wire, regulators) delivered to Suva would also be about $31,000. This price excludes labour. No trenching would be required. A small wooden box to fit a truck-sized battery would be needed. A wooden post would also be required for each solar panel.



  • It can supply power for TV and fridge in each house.


  • It makes noise and greenhouse emissions which are causing a lot of environmental, health and other problems around the world.

  • It would use between 2.3 and 4.3 litres/hour of fuel. Assuming the lower figure and a run time of 5 hours each evening, 4200 litres of fuel would be required in a year. If fridges were to be run, the diesel cost would increase sixfold (4.3 litres say for 15 hours run time). The cost of diesel fuel will increase each year due to diminishing world reserves.

  • It is only guaranteed for 1-2 years and then requires periodic expert maintenance and spare parts. After 5-8 years it would require replacement or a major engine overhaul. This will cost about 50% of the original cost of the diesel.

  • Someone must pay for and organise fuel deliveries to carry out daily operation.

  • The fuel and the 240V wiring is potentially dangerous.

  • The provision of 240V power points could encourage some residents to purchase more appliances and eventually overload the diesel. Will electricity meters be installed?

  • If the 13kVA diesel is selected (for future TV and fridges) it will run under loaded (without load management). This will increase running costs and maintenance.

  • If the diesel breaks down, everyone will have no power until a mechanic arrives with spare parts. How will the village pay for this?



  • there is no noise or pollution (providing old batteries are returned to Suva for recycling).

  • each house has its own independent system the solar panel has a 20-year warranty and a 30-40 design life. The battery has a one year warranty and a 4-5 year design life.

  • there is no fuel to buy, nothing to turn on each day. All maintenance can be carried out by someone in the village.

  • 12-volt wiring is not as dangerous as 240V.

  • A few people from the Island could carry out the installations with supervision from someone from the Rotary Club. These people could then carry out ongoing maintenance/advice. (Very little should be required - i.e. a 15-minute 'inspection' every 3-6 months).

  • the solar system would be able to operate the radio/cassette 24 hours/day.


  • it would cost each house about AUD$1,200 to upgrade the power for a TV/VCR. It would cost each house over $3,000 for an efficient fridge and solar panels to run it. A community centre could be supplied with power for TV/VCR for about $2,500.

  • each house would have a truck size battery. This would need about 5 minutes of maintenance/month and replacement after 4-5 years at a cost of about $150.


To quote a few passages from a study done by Vincent Coutrot, Director, South Pacific Institute for Renewable Energy.

"Rural electrification systems using photovoltaic power are capable of being economically installed as individual systems rather than requiring a central generation facility as it is the case with hydro, diesel and other rural electrification generation schemes. It is this capability of individual installation that provides many of the unique advantages of photovoltaic systems.'"

"For village-scale electrification, the primary advantages of individual PV systems over diesel systems are:

(a) there is no power grid

(b) access to land is not a problem

(c) there is no requirement for fuel

(d) individual systems are modular and can be sized to fit individual needs

(e) small central systems are easily overloaded

(f) the power levels are low and the components simple

(g) overall community power reliability is higher

(h) users can participate in system maintenance

(i) power is available 24 hours a day at no increase in cost

(j) maintaining adequate spare parts inventories is easier and less costly

(k) individual solar systems are safer

(l) PV systems do not contribute to noise or air pollution

(m) it is easy to add customers after the initial installation

(n) the long term recurring cost of a diesel system is less predictable than that of a PV system

(o) the greater complexity and greater physical hazards associated with diesel-powered central systems requires a level of training several stages above that needed for comparable quality maintenance of PV systems. PV system training may be undertaken locally with minimal facilities.

(p) photovoltaic technology is clearly the best choice for a large number of rural sites in the Pacific where electricity needs are low."


Since these two articles were published in 1996, there have been other solar-energy projects on Rabi. From aid projects, commercial installations and individual households.

Rabi High School

In 2008, Rabi High School became the first school, as part of a pilot programme with - It’s Time Foundation (3). The school has two diesel generators. One was still awaiting repair. Repair costs since 2015 exceeded $10,000.

Fuel and transport of the fuel is costing the school approximately $11,000 per year for 6 hours of day power and 3 hours in the night for the teachers.

The new solar is fulfilling all those needs with 24-hour uninterrupted power. Those fuel savings, repair costs and teachers happy to pay $90 per term for their now 24-hour power translates into many laptops and other electronic resources for the school.

This 6240W system includes:

24 x YingLi solar panels, 1 x SB5000 inverter, 1 x SI8.0 inverter, 8 x Simpliphi PHI3.4 batteries, 1 x new Clenergy ground mounting system.

Most tube lighting removed and replaced with LED tubes in the teachers quarters and some classrooms. The main classrooms used for night study had recently globe holders installed to replace the tubes (a recommendation we had put to the Ministry in 2016).

The project was funded by the Fiji Water Foundation. The project was installed Feb 2008

Tabiang Primary School

It’s Time Foundation also assisted Tabiang Primary School ten year later in 2018. The school had a diesel generator that failed and at the time of installation, they were hiring one for $50 per day and running it for an average of two hours per day and on a needs basis in the evening for the teachers to get their work done.

The savings on fuel and transport costs is approximately $3000 per year. That will be used to promote computer learning at the school.

This 2000W system includes 12 x BP solar panels (relocated from the 10-year-old Rabi High system that was the original Its Time pilot project);

1 x Outback Inverter and Controller, 2 x Simpliphi PHI3.2 batteries, 1 x new Clenergy ground mounting system. Most tube lighting removed and replaced with LED tubes.

The kindergarten and one teachers quarters were fully wired, other teachers quarters wiring repaired, extensive rewiring of the school building had particularly dangerous wiring.

The project was funded by multiple sponsors. The project was installed Feb 2018.

Rabi Post Office

The Rabi Post Office had a bank of solar panels in the grounds installed and they lasted many years and cyclonic weather. However, during one of the more recent cyclones, the panels were damaged and have now been replaced with a new commercial Victron off-grid solar system supplied by local Fiji company, Solar Fiji (4)


In 2016 the island of Ta’u in American Samoa changed from diesel power to 100% solar power.

The project - SolarCity, describes the deployment as "one of the world's most advanced microgrids."

It features a 5,328 solar panel array that covers 3.5 ac (1.4 ha) and has an output of 1.4 MW. The array is coupled to 60 Tesla Powerpacks that provide 6 MWh of battery storage. These can be fully recharged by seven hours of sunlight and can keep the island powered for three full days without sun.

  1. Banaba/Ocean Island News Issue No. 23, Oct/Nov/Dec 1996 published by Banaban Heritage Society

  2. ‘A Simple Solution’- Shaping a Sustainable Future by David Lambert, Reshape, a division of the Rainbow Power Company, Nimbin, NSW. Australia. 22 November 1996,

  3. To learn more about - It’s Time Foundation

  4. For more information on Commercial Victron Off Grid Solar System for Post Fiji Pte Limited in Rabi

  5. To learn more about the SunCity project on Ta’u Island American Samoa

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