The tropical island of Ta’u has gone an extra mile by getting rid of diesel fuel as its primary source of energy for powering homes and business premises and made full use of the South Pacific scorching sun.
With more than 5000 solar panels and another 60 Tesla power packs in place, the small South Pacific Island in America Samoa now boasts of efficient electricity supply. Despite having made it through, the process was full of ups and downs.
Lying about 4000 miles away from the West Coast of the United States, this tiny island of Tau has relied on over 100, 000 gallons of diesel for survival.
The fuel used to power homes, crucial water pumps and government building is shipped from Tutuila, the main island.
Bad weather and rough seas did prevent the ferries from docking bringing the entire island to a standstill. This left 600 residents without power and unable to work or go to school. They also had to put a halt to their paradise lifestyle.
According to Utu Abe Malae, the executive director of American Samoa Power Authority, Tutuila has subsidized the shipment of Tau diesel for decades and the cost tunes up to 400,000 U.S. dollars per year.
Besides that, Tutuila also put up with the risk of a possible environmental disaster in case the ships capsized during the treacherous journeys. As indicated by Malae, diesel shipping has not only been a significant waste of taxpayers’ money but also a long-standing environmental risk.
Our primary goal was to have the entire of American Samoa on solar power by 2040 but thanks to Tau for taking the lead and being a successful test run for the rest.
The Tau 1.4 megawatt microgrid project began two years ago, but it wasn’t long enough before poor weather conditions, technical hitches and transport delays set in and bogged down the entire construction.
It has not been easy, said Malae while laughing. I am glad the biggest hurdles have now come to an end. Ferries would often break down while heading towards the island.
Whenever this happened, we would flag down nearby fishing boats to help transport the solar panels to Tau. That is not the end of the story; the boats had to pass on the panels to row-boats to access the island. Things were never smooth in this project.
To ensure a smooth running of the micro-grid construction; solar engineers from Tesla contractors and SolarCity had to be flown from California to oversee the project.
Additionally, 15 local men were also employed to help in the construction process. Among the 15, five were previously low skilled odd-job men who are now full-time workers. They are the transitioned solar power technicians that are now managing the solar grid system.
Ashton Patridge, who is an associate professor at the Faculty of Engineering at Auckland University, while off-the-grid, made it clear that Tau was a small town that was most suited for solar power harnessing.
They have done a fantastic job and should provide a working model to other Pacific islands that got 6-8 hours of the sunshine per day. This would create 1,000 watts per sqm, a resource that goes to waste every single day.
The cost of setting up a solar power grid is quite high, and you can be sure the responses have not been good, he added. Things get better when the government steps in to cut down the cost, especially for remote communities that rely on non-renewable energy sources for survival.
The cyclone season is around the corner, and we expect heavy rains and gray skies to be a part of the day, Malae said. His interest was to see how the solar panels were going to hold up, but at the same time, there is less to worry about regarding Tau electricity supply maintenance as the grid is capable of storing enough power to run the island for three days.
Even though the islander’s power bills haven’t changed much and remain at $80-100 per month, the self-sufficiency and reliability of the grid in the remote outpost is worth the celebration, added Malae.
The neighbor islands such as Ofu and Olosega islands are expected to follow suit by the end of this festive season.
It has been tough, but we were up to the task, said Malae. This is the future we wanted for our islands.