The future is here for one remote tropical paradise, as the tiny island of Ta’u in American Samoa will now power all homes and businesses with the power of the South Pacific sunshine.

5,000 solar panels and 60 Tesla power packs make the island entirely self-sufficient. The process of converting the sun into electricity has been difficult and set back by many delays, but now it is here and working.

In the past, Ta’u depended on over 100,000 gallons of diesel to be shipped 4,000 miles from the west coast of the United States using the fuel to power everything from homes to water pumps. But when there was bad weather, the rough seas prevented tankers from docking, leaving the island helpless and effectively shut down.

Utu Abe Malae, executive director of the American Samoa Power Authority, said that Tutuila has been subsidising the diesel shipments for around $400,000 per year, and carried the risk of significant environmental damage if the delivery ship was to capsize during the treacherous journey.

TEST RUN

“Shipping diesel has been a long-standing environmental risk, and an inefficient use of taxpayers money,” said Malae. “We want all of American Samoa to be solar-powered by 2040 – but Ta’u has been the priority and test-run.”

mapThe 1.4 million megawatt micro-grid’s construction began two years ago but was slow to complete due to transport, weather and technical difficulties.

“It has been really hard,” said Malae. “The ferries to the island would often break down, so then we’d have to flag down nearby fishing boats to transport the solar panels, and then they’d have to pass the panels to row-boats to reach the island. Nothing about this project went smoothly at all.”

Solar engineers from Tesla and SolarCity flew to the remote island, overseeing the construction with 15 local men employed, turning them from low skilled odd-job men to full time solar power technicians managing the grid.

INNOVATION

Associate Professor Ashton Patridge from the faculty of engineering at Auckland University said “off-the-grid, small communities” like Ta’u were “ideally suited” to harnessing solar power.

“It is fantastic what they have done, and they should provide a working model for other Pacific island countries to study, as most get 6 to 8 sunshine hours a day, 1,000 watts per square metre – which is a resource that is otherwise wasted.

solar power“The cost of setup for solar is high and there has been a push-back against that,” he added. “But it is ideal if governments absorb that cost, especially for these remote communities that would otherwise be totally reliant on non-renewable energy sources.”

The solar panels are designed to store enough power for three days, in the event of grey skies during cyclone season. The power bills for each islander will stay the same at $80-100 per month, but the new system will be much more reliable and self sufficient.

This is the future.