The small nation of Tokelau in the South Pacific will be entirely powered by solar energy by the end of 2012, reports 3News in New Zealand, making it the first nation in the world to do so.

More than 4,000 solar panels are being installed on the three atolls that make up the nation – Fakaofo, Nukunonu and Atafu – and will supply all the energy needed by its 1,400 residents. The first atoll to go completely solar, Fakaofo, is scheduled to have its diesel generators turned off next week. “It’s been quite a milestone week for us, we now have all the solar panels erected, 1584 solar modules, all the batteries are in place,” said mechanical engineer Dean Parchomchuk from Powersmart Solar, which is responsible for the panel installations.

Tokelau is bathed in sunlight year round, making it an ideal candidate for going solar. Doing so is vital because the tiny nation has been 95 percent dependent on imported petroleum for its energy needs, needing more than 2,000 barrels of diesel fuel annually. This costs residents nearly 1 million New Zealand dollars (US $800,000) each year in addition to the expense of shipping the fuel and maintaining power generators. Turning to solar energy will not only save them these costs, but will also reduce carbon emissions by some 12,000 tons over the next 20 years.

“It’s going to be an amazing change from using fossil fuel,” said Tokelau energy minister Foua Toloa. “It avoids expenses, but also bringing them there, it’s dangerous and any spill will affect the environment.”

Tokelau has been in the news the last several years, dealing first-hand with rising seas as a result of climate change. Faced with such a situation, the nation and its peoples should serve as an inspiration to the rest of the world to push for the rapid development and deployment of renewable energy sources. Eventually, the effects of climate change will catch up to all of us.

Image Credit: Sam Howzit/Flickr