A small island in American Samoa is making the switch from diesel generators to 100 percent alternative energy. Ta’u, the easternmost of the Samoan islands, recently been equipped with a new microgrid, with 1.4 megawatts of solar generation capacity and 6 megawatt-hours of battery storage. It’s enough to power the entire island — both day and night.
Having an area of just 17 square miles, Ta’u has a population of fewer than 1,000 people, and so far, they have trusted almost entirely on diesel generators for his or her electricity. But it hasn’t been a perfect situation. Because Ta’u is so remote, fuel for the generators must be shipped in by boat, which is expensive and means the island sometimes runs low on fuel before the next shipment arrives.
About a year ago, the American Samoa Power Authority began soliciting help with a project to save the area from the inconvenience, greenhouse and costs gas emissions related to relying on diesel.And they were desperate to find out if anybody could provide an alternative choice to diesel, and that’s something that we responded to,” said Peter Rive, co-founder and chief technology officer of solar provider SolarCity, that was recently acquired by Tesla.
The result is really a system composed of more than 5,000 SolarCity solar panels and 60 Tesla Powerpack battery storage systems. The new microgrid could save the island nearly 110,000 gallons of diesel fuel each year, which amounts to about 2.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration .According to Rive, and covering about 99 percent of the island’s power needs, the microgrid is already up and operating. The battery system can offer three full times of power to the area without sun, he added. And it may fully recharge in seven hours of sunlight.
It’s not for the first time an island has made the switch to alternative energy. Last year, for example, the Nature Conservancy completed a $1.2 million solar and wind project on Palmyra Atoll, located about one thousand miles south of Hawaii. Although there’s no permanent population around the atoll, it works as a scientific outpost and temporary residence for researchers. The island now runs almost entirely on renewable energy, according to The Nature Conservancy.
Since 2008, the Galapagos island of San Cristobal — the next largest within the archipelago — has sourced about 30 percent of their power from the wind and solar. And a proposed expansion , announced earlier this season, could boost the share of renewables to 70 %. The goal would be to eventually eliminate the usage of fossil fuels within the Galapagos altogether.And currently, SolarCity and Tesla are involved in another project on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i, which will end up with 17 megawatts of solar generation capacity and 52 megawatt-hours of battery storage, Rive said.
According to Rive, the future of solar power lies in these types of battery-coupled systems, which allow energy to be dispatched and stored even when the sun isn’t shining. One of the biggest hurdles for renewable energy sources like wind and solar is that they can only generate power intermittently — when the sun is out or the wind is blowing. The continued growth and development of more efficient, fast-responding energy storage solutions are essential to the continued expansion of renewables.