Pacific Island to be powered solely by solar energy

Last year, for all but the second time in its history, did the little Pacific island of Ta’u find itself in the spotlight of the global media. The picturesque 44 square kilometre island in the Manu’a group of American Samoa has become the first island to be powered solely by solar energy.

An aerial view of the island (Picture courtesy SolarCity Blog).

An aerial view of the island (Picture courtesy SolarCity Blog).

Late last year, American energy storage company and electric automaker Tesla completed the acquisition of SolarCity Corporation, America’s well known solar energy services provider. To mark the occasion of the merger, Tesla announced the Ta’u project, which will fulfil the energy needs of the island’s entire population through solar power.

Several Pacific Island states have been working diligently toward replacing fossil-fuel driven energy generation systems with renewable systems like hydro power, solar power and wind power over the past many years. The Government of New Zealand continues to promote solar energy projects around the region by itself and in cooperation with other nations like Japan and those of the European Union.

The Ta’u power solar plant will put an end to the smelly, smoky and noisy diesel generators that provided power to the 600-odd residents all these decades. The 1.4 Megawatt solar farm will provide 100 per cent of the island’s power requirement including that of its small airport. Some 60 Tesla Powerpack battery systems will provide 6 Megawatt hours of backup to the solar farm.

When fully operational, the system will offset 412,000 odd litres of diesel a year, according to SolarCity’s calculations. The company worked with local development agencies to set up the project that is funded by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of the Interior.

This could well be a proof of concept project whose success will encourage its replication in other remote climate change-threatened islands in the Pacific and elsewhere. The Tesla and SolarCity merger deal, worth US$2.23 billion, is a strategy to create a seamless solution for electric cars and home energy systems powered by the sun, pairing the former’s battery technology with the latter’s photovoltaic solar energy harvesting technologies.

Local islanders are apparently happy with the development, with resident Keith Ahsoon telling a blogpost on the SolarCity website, “This is part of making history. This project will help lessen the carbon footprint of the world. Living on an island, you experience global warming first hand. Beach erosions and other noticeable changes are a part of life here. It’s a serious problem, and this project will hopefully set a good example for everyone else to follow.”

The first time that Ta’u found its place in the sun was when it became the much publicised site and subject of noted American anthropologist Margaret Mead’s much-read book, Coming of Age in Samoa nearly a century ago. Research for the book, considered one of the three bestselling books on anthropology of all time, was mainly conducted on this island.

Click here to view SolarCity’s video on the Ta’u project.

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