South Pacific Island Says Yes to the Sun, No to Diesel.

THE IDEA

  • an entire island in the South Pacific swaps out its old diesel generators to solar power

WHY IT MATTERS

  • the move takes a big bite out of its carbon footprint, and makes the island energy independent
  • it’s a great demonstration project from SolarCity, a division of Tesla Inc. 

WHAT’S NEXT

  • now that the concept has been proven, other remote areas should be more willing to follow Ta’u lead
  • some of those areas could be in North America

Cool story from the island of Ta’u—part of American Samoa, a group of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, about 4,100km southwest of Hawaii.

Historically, the island’s power has come from diesel generators—not uncommon on small, isolated islands throughout the South Pacific. Obviously, they’re pretty dirty, producing a lot of CO2 and emissions (and a fair bit of noise, as well). The generators also require constant shipments of fuel from far-off places. Which produces even more CO2 and emissions.

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But now, the island has gone solar, and in a big way. Fully 5,328 solar panels have been installed on a seven-acre strip on the northern coast of the island, along with 60 battery storage units. The system was built by SolarCity, a division of Tesla Inc., and cost about $8-million.

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The design of the system is pretty robust. Altogether, the battery packs store enough juice to keep the whole island going for about three days without sunlight. Once the sun shines, the system completely recharges within seven hours. It’s also designed to withstand the tropical cyclones that sometimes blow through—apparently it can survive a Category 5 hurricane. 

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Another big benefit of this is independence. No more will island residents have to wait for shipments of diesel. And if the weather delays the ships—so what. They’ve got their own energy. Hard to put a price tag on that, but it’s worth something. 

Obviously, Ta’u is a small place—its population varies between 200 and 600 people, depending on the season. So this kind of solution isn’t going to make a dent in a large population centre. But for small, isolated communities, it could be a great solution. 

Make no mistake: there are plenty of similar communities right here in Canada. It’d be a little harder to generate juice just from the sun here on the Wet Coast. But there are other places where it’s definitely possible. 

These kinds of “microgrid” projects are having a moment. We’ve heard of a lot of them that are seeking to replicate the same basic idea: combine renewable energy generators with battery storage to create energy-independent infrastructure for an entire community. 

We think it’s an idea whose time has come.  

GO DEEPER: 

Learn more about the project here.
And learn about a similar microgrid project in Haiti,
Or in Kenya.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?