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The scientific and cultural aspects of renewable energy development success in Samoa

10 Jan 2013

In bioenergy developments in the South Pacific cultural factors are known to influence the long-term sustainability of these projects. However, little is known about how cultural parameters influence the amount of biomass resource made available for power generation. The aim of this research is to determine the feasibility of sawmill residues for power generation as part of a village scale biomass gasification project proposed by the Government of Samoa. To do this, a biomass resource assessment of the tropical tree species tava (Pometia pinnata) used for timber production as part of the Patamea sawmill operation were classified using remotely sensed data captured by the WorldView-2satellite over the village of Patamea on the northeastern side of Savai'i Island, Samoa. Buffers were used to qualify the theoretical area of biomass available to better reflect the quantity of recoverable biomass based on proximity to road networks and logging tracks and exclusion of areas close to the Mali'oli'o River catchment. These quantitative methods were combined with qualitative methods in a mixed-methodological approach in order to attend to the different epistemologies that this thesis argues shapes the success of bioenergy and renewable energy developments in the Pacific Islands region more broadly. The use of cultural narratives and community mapping provided a more detailed understanding of how cultural systems and structures such as the customary land tenure system and fa'a matai (chiefly system) ultimately influence the viability of renewable energy projects. This research found many synergies between fa'a Samoa (the traditional Samoan way) and the structure of the proposed project in addition to discrepancies between the amount of land available for the proposed project as defined from scientific and cultural perspectives. Based on current logging operations the Patamea sawmill could potentially provide 26 kW. Based on a 10-hour a day operating time the sawmill could potentially produce 94,900 kWh of electricity per year (assuming a 365 day operating time). The proposed biomass gasification project could therefore potentially supply more than 8 times the 11,640kWh of electricity currently consumed annually by the Patamea sawmill operation and in doing so achieve energy security. The thesis recommends future bioenergy developments carried out in the Pacific Islands region combine rapid appraisals of biomass resource availability using remote sensing data and field observations, with qualitative methods such as semi-structured interviews and community mapping. To ensure the success and long-term sustainability of bioenergy developments in small communities in Samoa an understanding of both the scientific and cultural parameters that control the availability of the resource is critical.

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