Thanks to Tesla solar panels, the island of Ta’u in American Samoa has managed to minimize its dependence on conventional fuel, instead running on locally-harvested solar power. The region, which previously relied on imported diesel fuel, now houses a 1.4-megawatt microgrid that meets nearly 100-percent of its population’s energy demands.
Situated in the South Pacific around 7,000 kilometers (or 4,350 miles) from the western coast of the United States, Ta’u is one of five major islands that make up the American Samoa, and is home to only about 600 people. Given its somewhat remote location, the island has until now relied on shipping to acquire everything that is not locally available, including energy. Speaking about this unique way of life, Keith Ahsoon, a resident of the island, said:
I recall a time they weren’t able to get the boat out here for two months. We rely on that boat for everything, including importing diesel for the generators for all of our electricity.
To produce enough electricity for the entire population, each of these generators consumes up to 1,135 liters (around 300 gallons) of diesel every day, which amounts to over 414,500 liters (or 109,500 gallons) of fuel per year. Transporting the fuel to Ta’u in turn raises the energy costs to a great extent. In order to overcome this problem, SolarCity and Tesla have joined hands to install as many as 5,328 solar panels across the island, in addition to 60 industrial-scale Tesla Powerpack batteries.
The initiative has been made possible by funds from the American Samoa Economic Development Authority, the Department of Interior as well as the Environmental Protection Agency. The facility, which will meet “nearly 100 percent of the island’s power needs, has recently become operational following a year-long construction. According to the developers, the solar array offers up to 6-megawatt-hours of storage, providing three full days of electricity even during cloudy weather.
The system takes only 7 hours of sunshine to charge the Powerpacks to their fullest capacity. Unlike the previous method of importing fuel, the newly-installed facility could help reduce the incidence of power outages and ensure more consistent energy supply, given that the availability of sunlight remains more or less constant. Ahsoon was reported saying:
Once diesel gets low, we try to save it by using it only for mornings and afternoons. It’s hard to live not knowing what’s going to happen. I remember growing up using candlelight… Living on an island, you experience global warming firsthand. Beach erosion 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.
Tesla and SolarCity are in the process of constructing a bigger solar farm of up to 55,000 photovoltaic panels on the island of Kauai in Hawaii.