Electricity is an expensive luxury on many of the world’s islands. Too far from the mainland to be part of a traditional electrical grid, many rely exclusively on diesel generators. Diesel fuel is expensive because it must be brought to the island by ships, often across great distances. If the ships don’t arrive on time, the generators sputter to stop and the lights go out.
For decades, this has been the reality for residents of Ta’u in American Samoa, 4,000 miles west of Los Angeles. “I recall a time they weren’t able to get the boat out here for two months,” said Keith Ahsoon, a local resident whose family owns one of the food stores on the island. “We rely on that boat for everything, including importing diesel for the generators for all of our electricity.
“Once diesel gets low, we try to save it by using it only for mornings and afternoons. Water systems here also use pumps, everyone in the village uses and depends on that. It’s hard to live not knowing what’s going to happen. I remember growing up using candlelight. And now, in 2016, we were still experiencing the same problems.”
Now, thanks to the American Samoa Economic Development Authority, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Interior, the 600 people who live on Ta’u have access to clean, renewable electricity from a 5,328 solar panels supplied by SolarCity. They can generate 1.4 megawatts of electricity from the abundant sunshine that falls on the island every day. “It’s always sunny out here, and harvesting that energy from the sun will make me sleep a lot more comfortably at night, just knowing I’ll be able to serve my customers,” said Ahsoon.
But solar panels are just part of the story. Adjacent to the solar panels are 60 Tesla Powerpack batteries, each capable of storing 100 kWh of electricity. Combined, they allow Ta’u to have its own self contained microgrid with enough stored electricity to power the entire island for three days. If the batteries are ever depleted, they can be fully recharged in just four hours using nothing but sunlight. It took Tesla and SolarCity just a year to complete the entire microgrid from start to finish.
Its benefits are life changing for residents of Ta’u. The local hospital, schools, fire and police departments, and local businesses no longer need to worry about outages or rationing. But the biggest advantage is cost. Tau’s microgrid replaces diesel generators with more affordable solar energy. The island will no longer need to buy the more than 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel it took to keep the generators going. The skies over the island will also be clearer now that emissions from the diesel generators are a thing of the past.
“This is part of making history. This project will help lessen the carbon footprint of the world. Living on an island, you experience global warming firsthand. Beach erosion and other noticeable changes are a part of life here. It’s a serious problem, and this project will hopefully set a good example for everyone else to follow,” says Keith Ahsoon.
Ta’u may be a tiny island with a small population, but it could be a metaphor for all of mankind. Abundant, reliable, low cost electrical energy is now available to any part of the world that receives sunshine and with grid storage capability, that clean, renewable power is available anytime day or night.
The world needs to significantly reduce all carbon emission as soon as possible to counter the effects of climate change — it is isn’t already too late. Halting the construction of new fossil fuel powered generating plants and replacing them with solar installations could go a long way toward accomplishing that objective.
After all, what are continents but large islands? What can be done on Ta’u can be done worldwide. We have the technology. All we have to do is put it to use.
Source and photo credit: SolarCity blog