Tesla’s solar grid now powers an entire island in the South Pacific

American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States located in the South Pacific. Like a lot of remote islands, life within the island chain is challenging in ways we rarely think about on the mainland, particularly when it comes to power generation. The island of Ta’u is the easternmost volcanic island of the Samoan islands, and it’s historically relied on diesel generators for power, despite the constant need to import fuel. Now, thanks to Tesla, the villagers have enough renewable power to meet nearly 100% of their needs.

“I recall a time they weren’t able to get the boat out here for two months,” said Keith Ahsoon, a local resident whose family owns one of the food stores on the island, in a Tesla blog post. “We rely on that boat for everything, including importing diesel for the generators for all of our electricity. Once diesel gets low, we try to save it by using it only for mornings and afternoons. Water systems here also use pumps, everyone in the village uses and depends on that. It’s hard to live not knowing what’s going to happen. I remember growing up using candlelight. And now, in 2016, we were still experiencing the same problems.”

Now, a new 1.4MW microgrid will provide power to virtually the entire island, backed up by 6MWh of battery storage. That’s estimated to be enough capacity to handle overnight needs for the entire island, though diesel generators and diesel fuel can still be kept on-site for backup purposes.

This new deployment of solar power was financed by the American Samoa Economic Development Authority, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Interior and is expected to save an estimated 109,500 gallons of diesel fuel per year. The cost of transporting such fuel to remote locations is extremely high, and the island’s location and weather patterns make solar an excellent fit for the small community. American Samoa’s population has been shrinking for decades due to limited economic opportunity, and relying on periodic diesel shipments and electricity rationing when the boat can’t run won’t have helped that scenario. Constant, steady electrical power won’t magically revitalize the islands, but it’s hard to attract businesses when you can’t promise a steady electrical supply.

TeslaBatteries

The island’s new infrastructure and battery installation.

“This is part of making history,” said Ahsoon in the post. “This project will help lessen the carbon footprint of the world. Living on an island, you experience global warming firsthand. 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.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve talked about how batteries and renewable power can reshape life for remote communities or less-developed nations. Massive electrical grids that provide cheap power to entire nations are great if you can build them, but millions of people across the planet live in areas where such service isn’t available. Whether due to political instability, war, limited economic resources, or the sheer difficulty of building infrastructure in remote locations, these areas need to be able to generate electricity at the local level. Solar farms and technologies like flow batteries can provide this service where conventional generators and fossil fuels fall short, and we expect to see more of these kinds of announcements as solar and wind prices continue to fall and technology improves.

Tidal power generation is another possibility, at least in some locations. While only a handful of countries have deployed tidal power generators to-date, Nova Scotia recently made headlines for deploying a 2MW generator in the Bay of Fundy. While tidal power remains extremely expensive compared with wind or solar, there’s no reason to think we won’t see a similar long-term reduction in costs.

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