South Pacific nation pledges to base entire economy on renewable energy

The government of Vanuatu has committed the archipelago to becoming a hydrogen based society and cease importing petroleum products by 2010, becoming the first nation on earth to solely use renewable energy.

The Council of Ministers of the remote 83-island nation, currently dependent on imported petroleum, has also made a resolution to eliminate any remaining internal combustion engine vehicles by 2020 and said that “all machinery, vehicles and electrical generation will be done using fuel cells and renewable energy systems such as hydroelectric, geothermal, wind and solar”.

The plans, outlined in a government statement, were made possible as a result of the creation of a United Nations research and development programme in 1999, which assists small island developing states to achieve renewable energy economies through supplementary funding and donated technology. The programme was of particular interest to Vanuatu, the government said, “because the cost of importing petroleum based products for our basic energy needs nearly exceeds the value of our exports from all other products”. Another, even smaller nation, Tuvalu, has now also pledged to base its economy on hydrogen fuel cell energy, but is yet to cement the proposals into law.

Vanuatu has appealed to bilateral donors, experts in renewable energy technology and regional organisations to assist in preparing a design and feasibility study for a hydrogen-based renewable energy economy, enabling the manufacture of hydrogen fuels to be underway by December 2001. Feasibility studies have already been completed for the geothermal potential of Efate, the third largest island, which houses the capital. The nation, which has a population of only 190,000 and a 32 megawatt demand for power, according to 1997 figures, boasts no shortage of geothermal or solar potential to manufacture hydrogen fuel cells.

By using the UN’s programme, Vanuatu hopes that it will be able to work in partnership with industrial nations and leading industries that manufacture renewable energy and hydrogen equipment to become a fuel producing nation. The government hopes that twenty-year subsidies will be provided to invest in new cars, trucks, public transport buses, farm machinery, boat engines and electricity generators, and, that through this, new industry will be attracted to the remote nation. Because power will be supplied in modules, it will be easy to transport and set up, so that electricity may be provided to small, isolated villages for the first time ever. 

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