News Item

​Solar-powered island in the sun

News 24 May 2017

Nestled in the southern Pacific Ocean, Tokelau consists of three tropical coral atolls Fakaofo, Nukunonu and Atafu, with a land mass of just 10 km2 and a population of approximately 1500 people.

Geographically isolated, and surrounded by vast seas, it is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and to Mother Nature.

In an effort to combat the effect of climate change, Tokelau has utilised its ample natural resources, and it has become an example to the rest of the world.

The Tokelau Renewable Energy Project uses 100 percent renewable energy.

Television documentary maker Ulli Weissbach first became aware of the Tokelau solar project in 2013, when he attended the Pacific Energy Summit in Auckland, facilitated by Pacific Cooperation Foundation (PCF).

“Three remote islands in the Pacific becoming the first fully solar-powered nation on earth and setting an example for the complete adaptation of sustainable energy sounded like a story too good to be overlooked by mainstream news media,” Ulli says.

“However, research demonstrated this news release was widely ignored,” he adds.

So Ulli pitched the idea to his colleagues and clients at German TV, and after some funding and logistical issues were sorted, Ulli's company in NZ PACIFICA Productions Ltd was commissioned to produce a documentary for a pan-European arts and culture channel ARTE TV.

Ulli set about hiring a film crew, while he authored, directed and produced the documentary in Tokelau.

Given the remoteness of the three Tokelau islands, transport of crew and equipment was the biggest challenge while making the documentary, Ulli says.

The three atolls, 500km north of Samoa, lie far away from shipping lines, there is no airport or harbour and Tokelau’s only connection is an unreliable ferry service between it and Samoa, which operates every two weeks.

“The ferry carries people and supplies to all three islands on a three to four-day round-trip, stopping at each island for only a few hours of loading and unloading, which made it impossible to place a film crew for a reasonable amount of days on each island,” Ulli says.

A solution was found in collaboration with the German ocean foundation OKEANOS, which offered one of its replica Polynesian sailing canoes (vakas) as a means of transport for the crew, he adds.

On September 21, 2015, the original German version Die Sonnenmenschen von Tokelau (The Sunny People of Tokelau), and the French version Le Paradis Solaire de Tokelau (The Sunny Paradise of Tokelau), were first broadcast on ARTE TV, reaching over 200 million viewers in central Europe.

The English version The Solar Nation of Tokelau was later produced for international distribution and it has since been screened at three international film festivals - FIFO Tahiti, GreenMe Berlin and DOCs Without Borders, USA.

While Italian, Polish and Irish Broadcasters, as well as Lufthansa and Air NZ Inflight Entertainment have picked up the documentary to screen, NZ broadcasters have not yet shown any interest in The Solar Nation of Tokelau, which targets people interested in environmental issues, climate change, solar energy and of course, the Pacific.

In his work, Ulli has attempted to portray Tokelau and its solar revolution as an example to the world for the adaptation of sustainable energy, minimising carbon emissions and effectively combating climate change.

It also offers an insight into the unique, secluded lifestyle, politics and culture on remote atolls in the South Pacific.

The Solar Nation of Tokelau will screen at The University of Auckland, in the Old Arts Building, at 6pm, on June 1.

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