Atlas de la Polynésie française, ORSTOM, 1993.

Abstract Map 91

With its energy consumption of 1.8 tonne of oil equivalent per person (toe/pers) and an electricity consumption of 1,350 kWh per person, French Polynesia has reached a relatively advanced stage of development in comparison to other Pacific island countries. These figures, however, conceal major disparities between island groups — the Windward Group, with 74% of the population, accounts for 93% of energy consumed, for example — and hide the fact that the Territory area, until recently, totally dependent on imported hydrocarbons, since it has no fossil fuel reserves of its own.

These factors have recently led to a fresh look being taken at a variety of development areas in order to draw fuller benefit from the Territory's own resources and give everybody easier access to energy, a fundamental element in economic and social development. The energy picture in French Polynesia is therefore undergoing radical change, as witnessed by the gradual deiversification of tis energy balance with the introduction of hydro-electric and solar power schemes and the rationalisation of island energy systems.

The high consumption of hydrocarbons (still accounting for 95% of the primary energy balance with 325,000 toe, including 7,700 toe of gas) can be ascribed to the high rate of ownership of cars and boats and especially to Tahiti's position as a link in the international transport chain. Air and sea connections, international for the most part, tap off more than half of the petroleum products. That, added to the construction of the Pacific Testing Centre (CEP) was one reason for the Territory's increased energy use after 1960. The present-day storage facilities were set u p that time, opening the way for importing refined products in bulk and distributing them. Yet the hydrocarbon economy remains highly centralised : Papeete is the sole supply and storage base. The other islands, which utilise only 10% of theses products, more than half of that figure going to Moorea and the Leeward Group remain entirely dependent on sea transport for their supply and will do until the planned storage tanks are built.

Although electricity generation began as long ago as 1910 in Papeete, it began to develop in earnest after 1960 and virtually the whole of the island of Tahiti now enjoys a reliable power supply (256 GWh were produced in 1988). Electrification is a much more recent event in other islands, but significant progress has been achieved over the last ten years : where public power supply only reached 25% of main dwellings in 1977 (78% in Tahiti), it now covers over 65% of homes, not including the Tuamotu-Gambier groups (92% in Tahiti). This modernisation has been brought about by mounting use of renewable energies, local physical circumstances permitting, and rationalisation of supply. The power supply in Tahiti, which originally relied on thermal sources, using two oil-fired power stations, now provides 23% of its output from hydro-electricity and this share is expected to rise to 40 or 45% in 1995. A major hydro-electric power scheme is also under way in the Marquesas, while the other Society Islands, as the Australs, have not yet departed from contional thermal supply. The peculiarities of the Tuamotu-Gambier groups have qualified them as a large-scale field-testing site for photovoltaic electrification at the village level.

The Territory has made a strong commitment to new energies in general and is a showcase for French technology in the Pacific. Solar water heaters are a tried and tested product with wide distribution, particularly on Tahiti ; wind power, other applications of solar energy and biomass use are under research, where they have not yet already yielded results (e. g. radio beacons).

The aim of standardising energy costs has been partly met for hydrocarbons through an equalisation system producing a single price throughout the Territory. The proliferation and size of power supply systems make this goal harder to reach for electricity. Major infrastructure improvement projects are however under way, even if some schemes, such as village photovoltaics, are not consistently viable.