HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 584: 05 October 2011

Power to the people
A bold proposal for an alternative source of energy is put to the people of Murienua

Last week at the Kavera Meeting House, local businessman James Beer, held a meeting to put to residents of Murienua a proposal to set up a company, Murienua Power Co-op, to explore the provision of a new alternative energy source for the residents of the Murienua area.
The details of the proposal while revealed to Murienua residents, have not been publicized for the information of the wider public.
On Tuesday morning, Beer spoke to the Herald about the proposal.
Herald: What is the company Murienua Power Co-op?
Beer: It’s a non-profit company and its members will include only the residents of Murienua.
We need cheap, reliable power to have a stable economy, but we will need technical help. A Canadian Company and several Universities have volunteered their help. We also need money so we are seeking funding from international aid organizations.
Herald: Who has offered to help?
Beer: Sweet Lightning which is a Canadian company with lots of experience in energy, distributed computing and alternative power. Simon Fraser University which is a Canadian University, the University of Wollongong (Australia) and the Australian National University.
Herald: Why is this initiative being floated now?
Beer: To have a stable economy, we need lots of cheap power however, power is expensive and is not likely to get any cheaper. Despite the best efforts of Te Aponga Uira (TAU), this isn’t likely to happen without some big changes. A completely new approach is therefore needed.
At present, Rarotonga’s power supply works essentially the same as every other power grid, although on a smaller scale. There are a few large sources of power generation (in our case diesel generators). We have AC power lines linking houses and businesses.
Herald: What then needs to change?
Beer: We need to remove all possible overhead costs, have citizen ownership. Use whatever power sources are cheapest and best use whatever appliances will “play nice” with power. Have all the pieces work together cooperatively.
Herald: Alternative Energy?
Beer: Alternative sources of power are perfect for the Cook Islands. Wind, sun and waves are abundant here. Existing diesel power generation is getting more expensive all the time so investing in another approach makes sense here.
Herald: You referred to Smart Grids, can you explain what’s involved?
Beer: All over the world people are working to use computers and new technology to make power grids work better. One main objective of these new “Smart Grids” is to incorporate Alternative Power (sun, wind, waves) into existing grids.
Herald: Give us an example of how it works.
Beer: The diesel generators don’t know when your fridge starts. The generators run full bore -- just in case -- with a few generators to spare...what a waste! MUCH smarter if your fridge says to the island, “Hey, I’m about to start” OR if your solar panels say, “electricity for sale”! And the generators respond.
Herald: There are problems regarding Alternative Energy?
Beer: Lots of research is being done to solve 2 main problems with alternative power:
What do you do when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing? Storage? TAU can use 20% to 30% renewables in total and remain stable.
Herald: Tell us more about Murienua Power
Beer: Our approach will be to start with a clean sheet of paper to build a new power grid we call “Grid 2.0”, and run it alongside TAU. Since we are not adding to an existing grid we can approach the challenge from the other end, as in “How can we build a grid made up of 100% alternative power?” We will use mostly existing technologies only put them together in new ways.
Herald: How will this be done?
Beer: First we will seek a small amount of money to do some research collaboratively with Sweet Lightning, Simon Fraser University, Australian National University, and University of Wollongong. After some computer simulations and some physical experiments prove out the concepts we will seek international aid to fund an installation here.
Herald: Can you explain the concept?
Beer: Not everything is proven yet, but the concept is every dwelling and business will be a power generator using alternative generation. The co-op will install additional alternative generation, create a new power grid and build some form of storage A smart computer grid management system will make it all work.
Herald: Won’t this be expensive?
Beer: Our power is already the most expensive in the world: there’s nowhere to go but down.
Funding, probably interest-free loans, will allow us to buy new equipment. Our power bills will pay the loan instead of going to TAU. Once we own it all, we will have to make some choices
Herald: Where are things at the moment?
Beer: We are just getting started with our research. Once we get our plans formed and research started, we will approach some aid agencies for funding. While it is still early, our hope is to be starting our first installation here by mid-year 2012.
Herald: How will you keep residents informed?
Beer: Residents can get a MPC membership for $10/household. We will have regular meetings to update everyone on progress and answer questions. We will put up a website in the last quarter of 2011 that will track our progress and enable everyone to stay informed.
Under the previous government Beer was Chair of the Energy Committee which reported to government on options for renewable energy production.

-Charles Pitt

Herald Issue 554 09 March
- Norm exposes Trio of Doom
- Briefs from PM’s media conference Tuesday
- Tourism Industry ponders $5 million draft strategy
- Norman George resigns from Cook Islands Party
- Letter of Resignation from CIP
- Norman selfish says Prime Minister

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