Spanish island will become the world’s first 100% powered by renewable energy
The most remote and westernmost of Spain’s Canary Islands, El Hierro was considered to be the “edge of the world” by Europeans until Columbus made his famous 1492 voyage.
El Hierro, is making a splash by becoming the first island in the world fully energy self-sufficient through combined water and wind power, removing itself from the need of oil imports.
The island, itself, is home to about 10,000 people. The wind-hydro power station includes a wind farm with five wind turbines of 2.3 MW each, a pump unit, a hydroelectric plant, two dams and a desalination plant.
Currently, the hydro energy produces enough to sustain the island, but the wind turbines will produce extra; allowing them to transport freshwater to a reservoir 2,300 feet above sea-level. This reservoir can be used in times of need, releasing water through generators and producing extra electricity.
There is some controversy about El Hierro being the “first” island to rely totally on renewable energy. However, most experts agree that it is the first to secure a consistent supply of electricity from wind and water only, without the need for supplementary fuel or connection to an electrical grid. In fact, El Hierro has never been connected to an outside electrical grid.
The inconsistencies associated with wind power can pose problems, even on the notoriously breezy Canaries. Power failures could be damaging for the island’s tourism industry efforts, but El Hierro has tackled this issue with an ingenious closed-loop wind/hydroelectric system.
Excess power from the five wind turbines will be used to pump water to a reservoir in the crater of a nonactive volcano. When winds are calm, this water will be released, flowing downhill through hydroelectric turbines. This way, excess wind power can be saved without the need for batteries.
Though the systems have already been heavily tested, the island does have an emergency reserve of fuel to protect against unforeseen problems. Even so, Hierro continues to plan for more sustainable moves in the near future. The island’s authorities have entered into an agreement with Nissan to replace all of El Hierro’s vehicles with electric cars in the next six years.
Eco-friendliness is not a new idea on El Hierro. The island has been declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve because of its unique landscapes and wildlife and because only about 10 percent of the land has been converted to farmland. Nature dominates the rest of the island. Lower carbon emissions will certainly be a positive side effect of El Hierro’s nonfuel power grid.