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.