Spanish Island To Be Powered By 100% Natural Energy Beginning Next Month!


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El Hierro is the smallest of the Canary Islands, but next month it will make big waves when it becomes the first island in the world to go completely energy self-sufficient through a combination of wind and water power. Certainly, other islands have developed sustainable energy options, but none of them have gone off the grid entirely.

What aids El Hierro in this venture is its volcanic topography. Full of mountains that rise sharply from the sea (the tallest reaches 1,500 meters) and buffeted by strong Atlantic gusts, the island has the perfect terrain for a wind farm. The trouble with wind energy, however, is that sometimes the wind doesn't blow. Even though a study calculated that the new Gorona del Viento wind power plant will be able to supply 158% of the island's current electricity demand -- including that of 10,000 residents and three energy-hungry desalination plants -- there's no cheap way to store the excess electricity.

So when the wind disappears, so does the power supply.

The local government expects annual revenue from the plant to be between €1 million and €3 million. "These are revenues that can go to the local residents to subsidize water prices, infrastructure, social policies," said Alpidio Armas, president of the local council.

El-Hierro-all-renewable-energy-independent.jpgThe idea of energy independence in El Hierro took shape in the late 1980s when the local government proposed a sustainable development agenda that respected the island's heritage, even as it seemed "to go against the social and economic dynamics in the Canary Islands [at the time]," said Tomás Padrón, former President of the El Hierro district council. Those dynamics were looking to attract mass tourism and ride a building boom.

Once the Gorona del Viento power plant comes online at the end of June, ramping up to its full 11.5 megawatt capacity over several months, El Hierro's environmental impact will change dramatically. The island will save 40,000 barrels of oil shipped to the island each year at a cost of €1.8 million. It will cut 18,700 tons of CO2 emissions, 100 tons of sulfur dioxide, 400 tons of NOx, and 7 tons of particulates (the equivalent of 1,000 buses driving 280 laps around the island each).

The island, already designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, hopes to extend its green credentials by switching its 6,000 vehicles to all electric by 2020, as part of an alliance with Renault-Nissan.

There's also hope that El Hierro's experiment, which has already garnered interest from officials in Hawaii, Aruba, Denmark's Samso Island, and Japan's Oki, can spur others to follow suit. Projections suggest that 1,000 islands around the world could adopt the same energy approach.

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