Ms Emmanuelle Charrier of French Embassy and USP Project Coordinator, Dr Atul Raturi unveil the solar refrigeration plaque.
A hybrid solar system to support sustainable fishing was formally commissioned at Wainika Village in Vanua Levu on 5 July 2016 as part of a project of The University of the South Pacific (USP) and the French Embassy.
The commissioning took place in the presence of the Cooperation and Cultural Action Counsellor at French Embassy, Ms Emmanuelle Charrier and USP Project Coordinator, Dr Atul Raturi.
The hybrid system, which includes a 1.4 kW PV system coupled with a 2.5 kVA diesel generator and a battery storage which powers a three freezer refrigeration unit, was designed and installed in collaboration with CBS Power Solutions, in December 2015 and has been in operation for six months.
The inhabitants of Wainika village depend on subsistence farming and fishing. The region is home to some great fishing locations, but the catch has to be transported to the nearest market in Labasa for sale, which requires a two hour drive in addition to the 45 minute boat trip.
Since there was no storage facility in the villages, ice had to be brought in from Labasa first and then the catch was carried back. The whole process is highly inefficient, unsustainable and uneconomical. A significant amount of fish never reached the market and had to be discarded.
During one of his visits to Wainika, Associate Professor of the School of Engineering and Physics, Dr Raturi and the Chief of Cuku, Mr Epironi Ravasua discussed the possibility of establishing a refrigeration system for the community. The French Embassy in Suva, through the French Pacific Funds, agreed to provide funding to install a diesel-solar PV hybrid system.
The complete installation of three solar operated freezers last year became the hall-mark for a new beginning for the 23 households living in Wainika.
According to Mr Ravasua, villagers in Wainika and the neighboring village, Vatu now use the facilities and pay for phone charges and storing of food and fish in the freezers. Currently, four villages are utilising the freezer services.
While thanking the French Embassy and USP, the Mr Ravasua said that system will help with village obligations towards the church, Vanua as well as the Government and school commitments.
“The freezers together with accompanying full lighting systems for the community hall are now standing tall as reminders of love, care and kindness by the people behind the project,” he added.
The system has created economic opportunities for the recipients. From January to March 2016, the freezers helped store approximately 2,000 kilograms of fish with a total value of $6,000 of income for the community. They have also made contacts with buyers from Suva for their A-grade fish.
“The freezers have allowed us to conserve fish for a much longer period allowing people to cut down on food gathering time and more time for people to do other work in the community” the Chief further stated.
The hybrid system also provides a field-lab facility for Dr Raturi’s Master of Science student, Alvin Datt.
Dr Raturi said that the hybrid system and its operational characteristics act as a real world laboratory for Alvin’s research, adding that he is also conducting a socio-economic study to gauge the impacts of this system on recipients’ livelihood.
In his address during the commissioning, Dr Raturi congratulated the village Chief and others for being proactive in finding solutions for their energy needs and also for taking care of the system.
“I am very impressed with the careful data collected on the use of the freezers and income generated,’ Dr Raturi said.
Ms Charrier welcomed the solar refrigeration project and said that theproject allowed the fishing community of Wainika and its three surrounding villages to increase their income by creating economic autonomy, reducing electricity expenses by developing an access to renewable energy and finally, by improving food conservation methods.
“This pilot project is a huge success that should be taken as an example in other remote villages of Fiji,” Ms Charrier added.
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