Friday, December 2, 2011

A Sustainable Energy Island

El Hierro is a small island in the Canaries. Previously believed to be the westernmost part of the world, it is a roughly triangular volcanic island that's currently undergoing a series of earthquakes and new land formation, which is why I was reading about it. I think that's interesting. But when I got poking around I discovered something that's right up my alley, self sufficiency in power. This small island is home to approximately 11,000 residents and tourists so the demand for power is relatively predictable and stable. Through a grant of 54 billion Euros and using both hyrdo electricity and wind turbine generation, they should be completely self-sufficient in electrical power by the end of this year of all goes according to plan. And that's without extensive conservation practices. Here's the little blurb Wikipedia has about it...

According to the Ministry for Industry, Tourism and Commerce, El Hierro will become the first island in the world to be energy self-sufficient. This will be achieved through a €54 million project combining a greater than 11 megawatt wind farm and two hydroelectric projects.[20][21][22][23]

The project, created by the local Gorona del Viento El Hierro consortium with financial aid from the European Union, will construct five wind turbines capable of producing 11.5 megawatts of wind power to supply electricity for approximately 11,000 residents, an additional number of tourists, and three water desalination facilities. The hybrid wind/pumped hydro storage system will store surplus wind power by pumping water up 700 meters (approximately 2,300 feet) to fill the crater of an extinct volcano. When winds are calm or when demand exceeds supply, water will be released from the crater to generate 11.3 MW of electricity, filling an artificial basin created at the bottom of the extinct volcano. Water in the lower basin is then pumped back up again to the upper reservoir when there is excess wind power.[23]

The closed-loop hybrid wind/hydro system, to be tested by the end of 2011, is expected to save approximately US$4M per year (calculated with January 2011 oil prices) currently spent on about 40,000 barrels of crude oil imported annually, and will make the island completely self-sufficient for electrical energy.[23]

That looks pretty cool and shows some thinking outside the box. Here's a pic of how the system should work including de-salinization of the water and you can see the current Diesel generating station which will be taken offline. It's in Spanish, since the island is itself, Spanish territory but hopefully you get the point.

So what can we learn form this little island? After all, we don't have that kind of money to spend. What we can learn is this...look at what resources you've got, figure out your needs, and look with an open mind to see if there are unique ways of accomplishing your goals. These guys certainly did. And may their rocky shores be blessed for it.

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