How Islands are Shaping the Future of Solar Power


Forced to be self sufficient, an increasing number of islands are choosing to go solar, cutting the umbilical of diesel generators to provide electricity. These forward thinking islands have come to realize that the future of solar power depends on battery-coupled systems, which allow energy to be stored and dispatched at night or on cloudy days.

Ta’u’s New Microgrid

Situated on the east side of the Samoan islands, the small atoll of Ta’u in American Samoa is shutting down its diesel generators and going solar. Its new microgrid delivers 1.4 megawatts of solar-generation capacity backed by six megawatt hours of battery storage—enough to supply the 1,000 people who live there with the all the electricity they need, day and night. Relying on diesel fuel generators to provide electricity has been a problem from day one. Ta’u’s remote location meant that diesel fuel had to be shipped in by boat—an expensive process. The little 17 square-mile island often ran low on fuel before being resupplied. Going solar saved Ta’u from the work and worry of dealing with diesel fuels, with its attendant costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

When SolarCity (recently acquired by Tesla) received the solicitation to provide an alternative to diesel, they came back with a recommended system that would satisfy Ta’u’s needs. The new solar system consists of over 5,000 solar panels and 60 Tesla Powerpack battery storage systems. All told, the new micro-grid has the potential to save the island nearly 110,000 gallons of diesel fuel annually. Ecologically, that translates to saving nearly 2.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. Ta’u’s new microgrid has been up and running, efficiently meeting as much as 99 percent of the island’s electrical power requirements. The Tesla Powerwalls are capable of delivering three days’ worth of power during overcast days, and they can be completely recharged after just seven hours of sunlight.

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Solar/Wind Unite to Power Palmyra Atoll

Ta’u isn’t the only island turning to renewable energy to meet its electricity demands. The Nature Conservancy recently completed a $1.2 million solar and wind project on Palmyra Atoll. Situated roughly 1,000 miles south of Hawaii, the island needed a power source for its scientific outpost and researchers’ living quarters.

San Cristóbal Expands Solar/Wind Output

The Galapagos island of San Cristóbal is highly populated, with the second-largest numbers of people in the archipelago. Current estimates have the atoll generating 30 percent of its power from wind and solar. But that could change. Officials note that a proposed expansion could elevate the island’s production of energy from renewables to 70 percent. They hope to totally eliminate the use of fossil fuels in the Galapagos altogether.

Kauai 50% Renewable by 2020, 100% by 2045

Like all of Hawaii, Kauai is committed to going 100 percent renewable by 2045. Already 38 percent renewable, the island expects to reach 50 percent by 2020. Kauai’s utility currently has two 12-megawatt solar farms. What’s more, nearly 3,200 residents have rooftop solar that helps augment the utility grid. Combined, these solar sources are capable of supplying as much as 85 percent of the island’s electric power needs on a sun-filled day. Kauai’s hydropower plant and its biodiesel operation provide nearly 15 percent. Electrical needs during the day pale in comparison to the island’s needs at night when tourists flock to nightclubs and restaurants. This is when the island’s electric utility needs to burn fossil fuels to meet the demand for power. Adding to the problem, Hawaii imports these fossil fuels on barges, which raises the cost of electricity even more. This is why Kauai and other Hawaii islands are burdened with some of the highest electric rates in the nation.

With already soaring levels of usage, it’s only a matter of time before solar and wind help many more of the world’s remote islands become energy independent.

Posted on Wednesday, December 7th, 2016