Monday, November 3, 2008

{BDP} - Biofuels and Rural Electrification : Second set of questions - Due Fri 7/11/2008

Pacific Island Countries face an enormous challenge in promoting rural electrification. This is demonstrated by the fact that 70% of the region’s population still lacks access to electricity, the markets in pacific island countries are small and dispersed, and that rural communities are often of low population densities and isolated. In addressing this challengers and promoting rural electrification projects in the region, Energy planners always ensure that the most cost-effective options are considered.

In 2006, SOPAC conducted an economic study to assess the economic and financial viability of a number of technologically proven renewable energy options such as biofuel-powered generators for rural electrification in Pacific Island Countries. Findings showed that Interest in using feedstocks especially coconut oil as a biofuel in Pacific Island Countries only began recently, and successful trials in Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia have shown this to be technologically viable. However, experience with using coconut oil or other feed stock as a diesel substitute in rural electrification projects in the Pacific to date remains limited.

For the next set of questions, we would again appreciate if you could share your views and opinions with regard to some of the issues with biofuel and rural electrification:

Question 1: What is the current scenario regarding rural electrification projects in your country and how is the biofuel component factored in or the potentials in biofuel activities that should be included in project?

Question 2: What are some of the challengers that exist with rural electrification projects in your country and in your opinion or from your experience, what are some of the potentials, advantages, and challengers that biofuel initiated project have (or may have) with rural electrification?

Question 3: What are the mechanisms and activities implemented or that should be implemented in order to mitigate the challengers of biofuel electrification project in your country?

Summaries of Answers to Question 2

Biofuels and Rural Electrification:

Rural electrification projects in Pacific Island countries is one area of interest and an area where energy planners face a great deal of challenge considering that rural communities are often of low population densities, are isolated and lack economic income opportunities to sustain community projects. The following is a summary of opinions and experiences of rural electrification projects and biofuels in 6 Pacific Island countries and including experiences from Western Australia.

Q1: What is the current scenario regarding rural electrification projects in your country and how is the biofuel component factored in or the potentials in biofuel activities that should be included in project?


Rural Electrification has been an on-going activity in terms of Rural Development Projects in Fiji where most of these projects involved solar home systems and diesel generators. Experiences with biofuel for rural electrification projects has been carried out in early 2000 for the case of Welagi and Vanuabalavu project but now is not operational.

Interest in biofuel projects to outer islands is seen as feasible as the cost of fuel in the islands is always expensive and also taking into account the difficulties in shipping services. However detailed survey should be carried out before any biofuel project is implemented. These days generators for biofuel are available and diesel need not be transported into remote areas if they make their own bio fuel

Currently the Fiji Department of Energy are setting up 6 biodiesel processing plants around the rural and outer islands to produce biodiesel for their generators from coconut and sell the other downstream products, like soap, copra meal and animal feed or manure.


Rural electrification projects in Kiribati to date focuses mainly on solar PV. The government in its rural electrification plans has mandated all outer islands for solar stand alone PV systems. Coconut oil for biofuel projects in rural electrification is relatively new and there are yet any known projects from the government and private sector. However there was a case in Nonouti where a mechanic was reported to have used coconut oil to fuel a small alternator powering a religious group during one fuel shortage problem.


The current scenario in biofuel for rural electrification projects in PNG is at Bouganville where coconut oil is used to run generators where power supply from this source is small and limited to individual households. The big users of bio-fuels in PNG are the agri-businesses, particularly the oil palms and PNG’s only sugar farm/factory. They use the waste product for power generation and it is limited to their own operational needs.


It is unlikely that biofuels will play a significant role in rural electrification in Samoa, if any at all. Samoa is unusual within the Pacific in that there is a 95%+ coverage of the electricity grid, and the remaining unelectrified households that have been identified are either relatively close to the grid such that it is most cost effective to extend the power lines, or are further from the grid but are very widely dispersed. There is almost no clustering of unelectrified households in Samoa, which all but rules out biofuel, wind, pico-hydro, solar or hybrid mini-grids. This leaves stand alone renewable energy systems as the most viable option, which tends to fit the profile of Solar Home Systems most closely. A Solar PV based rural electrification project is currently being pursued for practical and financial feasibility, with results expected by the end of 2008, hopefully leading to project implementation beginning in 2009.

Solomon Islands

The current scenario in the Solomon islands regarding rural electrification projects is minimal except for few donor agency projects in rural community school based on solar energy .There is no emphasis on the use of bio -fuels as yet in these projects coming in from the national government or with donor agencies though the potential is there . Coconut Oil (CNO) as a base raw material for CNO biodiesel to be used as fuel for generating electricity in rural communities is a viable prospect and should be supported and include in these rural electrification


Previously, rural electrification projects were done on ad hoc basis. However, they are currently developing a Rural Electrification Master Plan (REMP) which will be ready to be submitted to the cabinet for their blessing in the near future. There are a number of sites that has been chosen for biofuel projects and is awaiting funding for implementation.

Western Australia

In Western Australia, the government supplies up to 34 remote electrification schemes of varying sizes (smallest 600 MWhr). The majority of these schemes are serviced from diesel generation which is costly particulary given the transportation and handling costs of these remote locations. Whereas local crop based biofuels may be an alternative it has not been pursued to date. Another approach however is being trialled in two communities based on firstly minimising the reliance on liquid fuel by implementing hybrid renewable energy systems ( solar/diesel and/or wind/diesel mixes). Two hybrid deep penetration solar based systems are currently under construction. What makes this project unique however is a new intergrating technology which will facilitate up to 60% penetration of the renewable component in the day time hence minimising the volume of liquid fuel, in the case diesel component. This can be further enhanced by smart metering and demand management strategies by shaving peak demand typically in the daytime. The challenge here of course is the upfront capital costs of such a system. However we found on a life cycle cost in these remote areas, RE out perform conventional diesel by far. Hence by minimising the reliance on liquid fuels, the introduction of alternative liquid biofuels may prove more manageable given the reduced volumes and reduced impact on the environment.

Q2: What are some of the challengers that exist with rural electrification projects in your country and in your opinion or from your experience, what are some of the potentials, advantages, and challengers that biofuel initiated project have (or may have) with rural electrification?


Rural Electrification projects usually has a lot of challenges when taken on the communal basis where major issues experienced from past projects centres around the poor management of the project from the communities in not having resources and means in place to ensure the continual running of the project.

Introducing any biofuel project for rural electrification, will face similar challengers where the following issues need addressing – the skill level in the community, labour force and income generating opportunities from the project, the availability of sufficient feedstock and the cost of operations.

Apart from that the main challenge is the commercialization of the rural mindset to take on a new brand of community oil based industry in their midst. The resource utilization to realize their full benefits, socially, culturally and economically, can be harnessed and generate huge rural sector renaissance and employment opportunities.


Challengers faced in rural electrification projects with biofuel will require technical know-how from the production side. At present, funding problem is the main hurdle to get over. Having got over these, advantages attached to available home lighting/energy at a touch of a button will greatly improve living standards in terms of improvement to homestead chores, perhaps at a much lower cost to present operating PV system. Other spin-offs resulting from availability could be imagined in a Kiribati rural life style setting.


Not much research has been carried out in PNG regarding biofuel for rural electrification. Experiences from PNG Power Ltd with biofuels for power generation has not been seriously looked at due to lack of awareness, lack of capital and that PNG has a lot of other generation sources, such as hydropower, geothermal and LNG which are more of interest to invest in.


For Samoa, in the case of dispersed household distribution, the only really viable electrification option is Solar Home Systems. Village-based coconut oil biofuel operations (the only biofuel with which Samoa has appreciable experience) feeding into the grid are theoretically possible, but the biggest challenge is the marginal economics of small scale coconut oil production facilities. At least in Samoa, large economies of scale are needed to compete with diesel prices to enable farmers to reap high enough coconut prices to make farming the nuts worthwhile.

Solomon Islands

There are substantial challenges that exist in Solomon Islands for bio-fuel based rural electrification projects. The Solomon Tropical Product (STP) experience has been, absence of policy measures encouraging involvement of private investors, absence of necessary legislation for rural electrification injunction with the national Electricity Act and not enough awareness on the use and benefits of bio-fuels (e.g. CNO or CNO biodiesel ).


In Vanuatu, small copra mills have been set up in rural areas to feed biofuel generators for supplying power to rural and remote areas. Seen as a promising project, small copra mills share advantages like farmers not having to wait for 2 – 3 months before they can sell their copra to the next shipment. They can always sell their copra to the mill at any time and receive cash instantly to pay for their electricity bills and other needs. Also the copra mill tends to pay copra at a more stable price and not affected much by the fluctuating world market prices.

The challenge that the mill may face will be on the issue of copra world market prices – where farmers may get tempted not to sell their copra to their local mill if copra prices are high.

Western Australia

The main challenges with most remote electrification scheme in Western Australia are the ongoing minor maintenance and troubleshooting, debt collection and other related customer services.

Q3: What are the mechanisms and activities implemented or that should be implemented in order to mitigate the challengers of biofuel electrification project in your country?


Detail cost analyses is one area that’s need to be looked into and take into account the entire social and economic benefits/costing. Food security is also an area that should be seriously considered when introducing biofuel.

The policy paper on the mandation of biofuel usage to boost tradeability of biofuel has been endorsed by cabinet last year for a 10% vol by vol replacement. There are 5 projects at the moment; cassava ethanol, cane ethanol, coconut biodiesel, jatropha biodiesel and seaweed ethanol. Total project cost is around 2 billion dollars, but at the moment most of these projects are still in the implementation phase. They are all projected to commence in 2009 and in full production by 2010.


Misaligning mechanisms considered essential for the success achievement of any proposed activities that could be implemented, can obviously spoil development; anticipated outcomes that can lead to expected benefits to the poor rural will be negated. Exposure to such type alternative is paramount to get people support for one thing. On the other, technical support to ensure continued operations is another, but then this will hinge largely on rural people’s acceptance, those who are expected to maintain a sustainable level of raw production. Government blessing to green-light this is essential for sure before anything else could be done. A tentative 1% mix has already been accepted by KOIL during one Task Force meeting on CNO use.

Solomon Islands

Mitigating the challenges of bio-fuel electrification projects in Solomon islands must begin with the appropriate legislation in place to implement and support rural electrification .The development of strategic partnership between government , private sectors, NGO'S and donors must exist in researching, developing, promoting and supporting the provision of bio-fuel generating electricity in rural areas .Donors must be more flexible in their funding arrangements to allow the research and development of local based energy sources like coconut bio-fuel to be used in the country


One of the policies or rather strategies outlined in the Vanuatu National Energy Policy Framework is to encourage farmers to work together with Agriculture Department in planting more productive coconut trees.

Currently, there a few projects on biofuel by different activist without complying to any particular standards. Vanuatu will in the near future develop its own national biofuel standards as highlighted in its national energy policy and would better shape the development of biofuels in the country.

Western Australia

A successful approach undertaken in Western Australia for community projects is through employment and training of the local people embedded within the community. Whereas costly, this has proved to be highly successful particularly with community acceptance and responsibility for maintaining systems. Another significant benefit is the social benefit arising from providing well paid jobs within the community. Debt collection has been enhanced by the provision of prepaid meters. This has had a high level of acceptance from the communities whereas intially resistance was anticipated.

Embedding this type of business model within a community creates a great foundation for other energy initiatives such as crop based fuels which will further enhance local job and training opportunities. The business model for private enterprise undertaking this type of work does however require strong government energy policies, frameworks and electricity price support mechanisms for this model to work.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Land and feedstock requirements and availability

Once touted as one of the world's alternatives to fossil fuels, biofuels have come under scrutuny for its role in mitigating climate change, promoting deforestation and diverting agricultural land from food production. Recently articles in the media has reported that large-scale biofuel production is affecting poor people's access to land in African countries, in Asia and the Pacific region, where farmers in places such as India, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea are suffering.

Critics argue that biofuels are not sustainable and that they have inflated global food prices. Supporters say biofuels are one of the most viable choice of sustainable energy alternative and that they are being unfairly blamed for the world food crisis.The report (, published by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows that biofuel production can allow poor groups to increase their access to land and improve their livelihoods if the right policies are in place. It points out that all biofuels are not equal and recommends policies that would increase the social benefits biofuels production can bring to the rural poor in developing countries.

In the context of the pacific Island Countries, biofuel development ranges from small scale production to that of large scale production and the impacts on the scale of biofuel development in respective island country varies according to their own set of challengers.

The following are a set of questions we would appreciate if you could share your views based on what you think is the current occurence or situation of biofuel development on land and feedstock requirements and availability in your area/country. You can simply comment through this blogsite or send your views by email to

Question 1: what is the current situation and interest in Biofuel Development in your country?

Question 2: Your view on the availabitiy and viability of potential identified feedstock for biofuel production in your country?

Question 3: Your opinion on the suitability and availability of land for Biofuel development?

Summary of Answers for the first set of Questions:

The following is a summary of views and opinions for the first set of question from 5 Pacific island countries on the status of biofuel development and the availability of land and feedstock requirement.

Up till now, the current scenario and interest in biofuel development at the national level in Pacific Island countries are mostly under feasibility studies and are in plans and proposal stages. Much interest lies in the production of biofuels to run diesel engines for power productions. In Fiji there has been a community based project in early 2000 using coconut oil to run a diesel generator for power production. At this stage the status on the progress in running the generator with coconut oil has been abandoned due to mechanical problems. In Kiribati, there is proposal to undertake a feasibility study in using copra oil for power generation and to have exposure visits from engineers in the RMI and Vanuatu. For Samoa, interest and experience in biofuel development is majorly undertaken in the power utility where trials have been carried out in 2005. In addition, there is huge potential and interest in place for the production of coconut oil in the order of 3 million litres a year for power generation in the Island of Savaii. Solomon Islands on the other hand have no working strategies in place for biofuels but are interested in developing biofuel for power production as complementary projects to other alternative energy technology such as Hydro power and Solar power. In Vanuatu, there have been extensive trials in place in using coconut oil for power production. Unelco, the main power producing company in Vanuatu is currently running on 25% coconut oil for power production. In addition there are also 4 community based biofuel projects on the ground where one is currently operating at 100% coconut oil.

In addition to developing biofuel for power generation, there is interest also in producing biofuel for land transport in Pacific Island countries where trials have been carried out in Fiji, Samoa and Vanuatu to run cars on coconut oil biofuels. Also for the past months, Fiji has been actively involved in the planning for the construction of a large ethanol production facility that is capable of producing 50 000 tonnes of ethanol a year which could supply fuel for cars that run on petrol.

Apart from the government initiated biofuel projects in Pacific island countries, there exist increasing involvement and investment from the private sector in a number of biofuel production facilities in Fiji, Samoa and the Solomon Islands. For Fiji, Herbex limited, a privately owned company has been producing biodiesel from waste vegetable oils. In Samoa there is a private supplier that is selling small coconut oil (CNO) volumes for use in diesel vehicle engines at 80/20 CNO/kerosene. In Solomon Islands, the company Solomon Tropical Products produces coconut oil in a large scale and is very interested and committed to the development of biofuel. In addition, there are also companies available in Pacific Island countries that sell oil milling equipments and biofuel blending units as in the case of Biodiesel (Pacific) Limited in Fiji.

Raising awareness activities and involving government commitment to biofuel projects in Pacific island countries is prominent in Fiji, Samoa and Vanuatu. In Fiji, for the recent months there has been growing awareness to all levels of the population about governments’ involvement in the establishing of an ethanol production facility. In Samoa, there is currently a biofuel scoping research with funding from UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), to perform a detailed scoping study of agricultural biofuel potential in Samoa. For Vanuatu, awareness on biofuel activities is raised at all levels of the community with on the ground projects in place.

Despite the progress in biofuel activities in pacific island countries, much is not known on the current status of available land and feedstock capacity at a regional context. With regards to feed stocks, it was noticed that the 5 pacific island countries identified coconut oil as the main source of feedstock that is viable for biofuel development. In the case of Fiji, coconut oil for biofuel production is mainly feasible for outer islands due to transportation problems. This is also reflected in Kiribati. Copra for coconut oil production in Samoa is one of interest considering the current state of the collapsed copra industry leaving opportunities for biofuel development activities as a suitable replacement for the coconut industry. For the Solomon Islands, interest in using coconut oil for biofuel development carry’s a lot of potential considering that there is enough copra feedstock’s to produce 45,000 MT of coconut oil per annum.

Despite this interest and involvement in coconut oil for biofuel activities, an issue need addressing is the current high prices of copra which is more favoured over biofuel production activities. This is an issue of concern from Fiji, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands.

Other feedstock of interest for biofuel projects include Jatropha considering its capability to grow in arid and waste land. Countries that find interest in Jatropha include Fiji, Kiribati and Samoa. In Fiji, interest in Jatropha is on a small scale and one that is being pursued by Herbex Ltd targeting waste and idle lands in the western side of Viti Levu. However there is more interest from the government to undertake large scale ethanol production from Cassava and Molasses. In Kiribati, a pamphlet was submitted to the Agricultural ministry for consideration regarding exploring the use of jatropha on available unused land. In Samoa a private sector party obtained a land lease and government approval for starting a Jatropha biodiesel plant on Savaii Island, but no development has yet taken place. In addition to Jatropha, Samoa has also carried out lab-based trials for producing ethanol from breadfruit and will possibly be seeing additional feedstock for biofuel projects after obtaining recommendations from the biofuel scoping report. For the Solomon Islands, apart from coconut oils, there is large scale production of crude palm oil which is possibly an area of interest for developing biofuel projects from waste palm oil.

In terms of Land availability for biofuel activities, Pacific island countries in general are mainly divided between the volcanic islands and the atoll islands. For the volcanic island countries as in the case of Fiji, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, there is abundant of land available to explore opportunities for biofuel development. In Fiji, there is more than sufficient land to cater for all proposed biofuel projects in the pipe line but an area need sorting and settling is the issue of land ownership and leases, land rehabilitation and management programmes. For Samoa, since the collapse of the copra industry, the existing coconut farms are more than sufficient to cater for biofuel development hence the need in exploiting forest land for biofuel development is not required. In the Solomon Islands by estimation there are hectares of logged out land running to the 1000s that can be looked in to for biofuel development opportunities but at present, the current coconut plantation is sufficient for use in biofuel production as biofuel development projects are seen as small scale and complementary to hydro and solar projects. In Vanuatu, at the current statistics, coconut tree plantations available are abundant to produce adequate oil for the nation.

For atoll island countries such as Kiribati, land scarcity is a problem, but there exist unused land which can be used for biofuel development. One such case is the area where coconut trees can not grow. This land could be utilised for biofuel projects such as creating jatropha plantations. In addition the existing coconut plantations in outer islands are sufficient for biofuel projects considering a lot of copra are wasted annually due to transportation problems of copra to Tarawa.

Note: If you are interested to further add some comments on land and feedstock requirement for Bio fuel Development, please do send an email to or simply comment through this blog site.