Solar Islands – The Solution to a Sustainable Future
By Murtaza Sariya

Island paradises make for breathtakingly beautiful vacation spots for tourists visiting them but are terrible places to begin a life or to live on. Next time you’re traveling to an island resort while sipping tasty drinks and eating exotic fruit, be prepared for a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the locals.

Living on an island is difficult. It is an expensive lifestyle, mainly attributable to the cost of generating electricity. Islands cannot accommodate large power plants of any kind due to a lack of space and the fact that they wouldn’t be visually appealing to tourists. For this reason, islands usually run on diesel generators and some supplementary form of renewable energy. Diesel is a very expensive way of generating electricity.  Even on the mainland where there is proper connectivity, the cost of running diesel generators is extremely high. On isolated islands with a comparatively low demand for electricity and with the added cost of shipping, solar power seems to be a better alternative.

Blessed with open skies and lots of sunshine, the potential for generating electricity is abundant. However, the sun does not shine at night, and storms make infrequent yet devastating appearances.  If only there was a way to combine efficient storage with solar generated energy. Well, we finally have a solution in the form of Elon Musk and his company Tesla.

In November 2016, Tesla completed the $2.6 billion acquisition of SolarCity, a manufacturer of solar power generating products. Their first agenda is to completely electrifying the island of Ta’u in American Samoa using solar energy. For almost a year, Tesla was working on installing a microgrid, batteries and solar panels to convert an island originally run entirely by diesel generators to a completely sustainable island. The project began soon after the announcement of Musk’s interest in acquiring SolarCity, a veiled attempted to impress upon shareholders the benefits of such an acquisition.

The installation comprises of almost 5300 solar panels from SolarCity and 60 Tesla Powerpacks (the latest, most efficient batteries manufactured by Tesla), supplying power to the 600 residents of Ta’u.  The project will make redundant the consumption of almost 420,000 liters of diesel, the quantity of fuel used by the island on a yearly basis. This does not include the cost of shipping as well as the diesel used by ships to transport the fuel to the island. The issue of storage is also addressed by Tesla’s Powerpacks.  In the event of bad weather that would result in a drastic reduction of solar radiation, the Powerpacks have enough capacity sufficient to continue powering the island for almost three days. The installation also has the incredible capacity to completely recharge with just seven hours of solar radiation.

Islands will be the first casualties of global warming when water levels begin to rise. With this initiative, the islanders of Ta’u have made a contribution towards a future consisting of clean energy. This project will not just help the inhabitants of Ta’u to reduce their carbon footprint but will also make them energy independent.

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