Garden weeds in Samoa could be key to conserving forests, fighting climate change
The invasive Merremia vine has destroyed more than half of Samoa’s forests. An eco-innovation is now turning this environmental predator into a source of renewable energy for the island state.
Like many Pacific Island states, Samoa is heavily dependent on fossil fuel for power generation; about 69 percent of the national energy production comes from diesel-fueled generators.
This is an expensive solution for island countries that pay high prices to ship fuel to local shores.
In addition, fossil fuel-based energy is highly polluting, and carbon emissions contribute to climate change that islands states such as Samoa experience in the form of extreme weather events and rising sea levels.
The island state is now looking for sustainable energy solutions that are affordable to its population, with small environmental footprints and low greenhouse gas emissions.
The Merremia vine
Samoa is currently facing the rapid spread of invasive Merremia vine, a vine that has so far destroyed more than 60 percent of the country’s forests.
But the vine can potentially also be fuel for bioenergy. With support from the United Nations Development Programme, Samoa will now develop biogas energy systems fuelled by the vine and other green waste. Such waste is currently disposed of by burning. The goal is to demonstrate the viability of biogas solutions on the island, while at the same time stopping the spread of the invasive vine.
Sala Sagato, assistant chief executive officer of the Renewable Energy Division for the Ministry of Natural Resource and Environment in Samoa has high expectations of the Merremia biogas project.
“Being able to offer biogas solutions for households and private sector here in Samoa is a way to provide people with clean and affordable energy solutions that at the same time takes care of the problem of the invasive Merremia vine. The project will also offer alternative waste management, reduce burning of green waste and provide organic fertilizer for the agricultural sector.”
The biogas project has emerged from the regional project called PIGGAREP – Pacific Island Greenhouse Gas Abatement through Renewable Energy Project.
The project is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as implementing agency and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) as implementing partner. The project covers eleven Pacific island countries and has provided feasibility studies, training, awareness and renewable energy projects across the Pacific since 2008.
As a follow up to the project, Denmark is funding more renewable energy projects in the Pacific.
"Small island nations like Samoa spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on fossil fuel-based power generation, even if they have renewable energy sources available. We hope that the biogas project in Samoa can open doors for other innovative bio-energy projects in the Pacific region," said Mina Weydahl, an energy analyst at UNDP’s Asia-Pacific Regional Centre.
Biogas fuelling a conference
Biogas technology is well known, and there are already millions of biogas plants in operation throughout the world. Whereas using the gas for direct combustion in household stoves or gas lamps is common, producing electricity from biogas is still relatively rare in most developing countries, particularly in small island developing states.
Samoa will install two biogas systems, one on the island’s public golf course, and one in the village of Piu, about an hour from Samoa’s capital Apia. The systems will demonstrate the value of biogas as alternative clean fuel for production of electricity and transport. The two biogas systems are expected to be operational for a major upcoming conference taking place in Samoa September 1-4, 2014. Biogas will fuel the production of electricity to charge the vehicles that will be used in the SIDS venue and the golf course.
The project will also gather valuable data on operation and management of biogas based power generation and will improve understanding and knowledge of management and operation of biogas energy systems in the Samoan context.
Energy analyst, Asia-Pacific Regional Centre