The small island of Ta'u in American Samoa is the setting for a major breakthrough in the sphere of solar energy. Previously dependent upon imported diesel oil and fossil fuels for everyday needs, the 600 inhabitants will now have their heating, light and energy supplied almost entirely by solar power. It may sound somewhat futuristic but the future is here and now thanks to the recent acquisition of former power suppliers SolarCity by American automotive and energy storage giants Tesla Motors. Tesla has just acquired SolarCity in a friendly takeover costing 2.6 billion dollars and immediately announced its ambitious plans for the island of Ta'u. In the year prior to the anticipated takeover, Tesla had invested heavily in the installation of a microgrid of solar panels and batteries that is expected to generate almost 100% of the island's needs.
Out with the Old, In with the New
In the bad old days of not so long ago, the residents of Ta'u had to rely on diesel oil to fuel generators for power. Almost 110,000 gallons had to be shipped in annually which, combined with transport and storage costs, was an expensive and time-consuming exercise. As storage capacity was limited, the islanders also faced disruption to their power supply as bad weather often disrupted shipments of diesel oil and rationing or power shortages were common and often lasted for weeks or even months.
Funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Interior and the American Samoa Power Authority, the microgrid was constructed in under twelve months and comprises of 5,328 solar panels generating 1.4 megawatts of power and 60 Tesla Powerpacks storing 6 megawatt hours. The storage capacity is sufficient to power the island for up to three days without sun and can be recharged fully in about seven hours. Not only will the microgrid provide electricity for the island's residents but it will also generate enough power for local businesses, schools, the hospital and police and fire brigade stations.
Clean and Green
Any project that lessens environmental damage is worth encouraging and Tesla's solar energy plans for Ta'u are to be applauded. Instead of burning fossil fuels for energy, the island of Ta'u will use clean energy from the sun as a power source and there are similar projects in the pipeline. In Hawaii, Tesla and SolarCity are building a 55,000 panel solar farm on the island of Kauai and hundreds more of these solar farms are planned in the near future.
Not only is solar power more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels, it also makes good economic sense as harnessing and using the natural power of the sun is cheaper and is vastly more sustainable source than coal, oil or gas.
As part of the Tesla "Master Plan" to move the world towards solar energy, the project on Ta'u is a small but hugely significant step. Oil and gas continue to play a huge part in providing the world's energy but solar power is steadily catching up and will soon be the biggest source of energy across the globe. Cleaner, cheaper, renewable and more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels; solar power is no longer a dream but a reality.