Billionaire CEO Elon Musk announced Tuesday that he’s powering the American Samoan island of Ta’u with 100 percent solar energy, but similar attempts on other islands have failed miserably.
Musk’s companies Tesla and SolarCity have already installed 5,328 solar panels on the island, generating a capacity of 1.4 megawatts of electricity. These panels, backed up by 60 Tesla Powerpacks that can store six megawatt-hours of power, are currently powering the island’s entire population of 600 people.
Tesla claims this amount of storage can power the island for three days without the sun and is generally capable of covering “nearly 100 percent” of its electrical needs.
“Its benefits are life changing for residents of Ta’u,” says a Tesla press release. “The local hospital, high school and elementary schools, fire and police stations 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, and is designed to optimize system performance and maximize savings.”
Extremely remote islands are some of the world’s best candidates for green energy, as it’s very hard and expensive to ship the fuel necessary for conventional oil, coal or natural gas power. However, the only two previous attempts to convert islands to 100 percent green energy both failed.
Neither Tesla nor SolarCity returned requests for comment when asked about the two previous failures by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The islands of Tasmania and El Hierro both tried to power their economies entirely with green energy, but both islands eventually went back to diesel generators after suffering reliability problems and soaring energy costs. Both islands are far larger than Ta’u.
Though they were on opposite sides of the Earth, both Tasmania and El Hierro became poster children for environmentalists campaigning for countries to ditch fossil fuels. Yet, both islands saw their energy sectors become costly failures after going green, according to the free market Institute for Energy Research (IER).
Tasmania, off Australia’s southern coast, primarily used hydro and wind powers, but these sources proved to be unreliable due to weather, mismanagement, and technical issues. To make matters worse, the cable that allowed Tasmania to purchase electricity from Australia broke last December and the island’s hydropower has been hurt by an extended dry period.
Tasmania rapidly became so desperate for water to use for hydropower that the island has even resorted to seeding clouds for rainfall. Tasmania energy system simply wasn’t able to keep up with rising demand for power, and they’ve been forced to shut down portions of the island’s industry and purchase 20 portable diesel generators to keep the lights on at a set-up cost of $44 million.
El Hierro, one of the Canary Islands off North Africa’s coast, replaced its diesel power plant with a hybrid wind power and pumped hydro storage system worth $94 million. The expensive system couldn’t provided reliable electricity or keep the power on for the entire island.
Even during the high-wind period in the summer of 2015 the island only got 51.7 percent of its power from the system, but a low-wind period in December saw the system generate a mere 18.5 percent of the island’s electricity. The sheer unpredictability of the system damages the island’s electrical grid and forces the island to fall back on the diesel power it was supposed to replace.
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