Ta'u, an island in American Samoa, has turned its nose at fossil fuels and is now almost 100 percent powered with solar panels and batteries thanks to technology from the newly combined Tesla and SolarCity.
The microgrid is operated by American Samoa Power Authority and was funded by the American Samoa Economic Development Authority, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Interior.
Radio New Zealand reported that the $8 million project will significantly reduce fuel costs for the island, which is located more than 4,000 miles from the west coast of the U.S. Ta'u's 600 residents previously relied on shipments of diesel for power. At times, a shipment could not arrive on the island for months, meaning the island had to power ration and faced reoccurring outages.
But the new microgrid replaces this reliance on dirty fuels with more affordable solar energy, as Peter Rive, SolarCity co-founder and CTO, detailed in a blog post about the project, adding that the microgrid is designed to optimize system performance and maximize savings.
"Factoring in the escalating cost of fuel, along with transporting such mass quantities to the small island, the financial impact is substantial," Rive wrote. He pointed out that the microgrid also eliminates "the hazards of power intermittency" and makes "outages a thing of the past."
The microgrid, which only took one year to build, features 1.4 megawatts of solar generation capacity (or 5,328 solar panels) and 6 megawatt hours of battery storage from 60 Tesla Powerpacks. An estimated 109,500 gallons of diesel will be offset per year.
"Before today, every time we turned on the light, turn on the television, turn on maybe the air conditioner, all of the cash registers in China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia go 'cha-ching,' but not after today," SolarCity market development director Jon Yoshimura told Radio New Zealand. "We will keep more of that money here, where it belongs."
With the Powerpacks, the island can store solar energy at night, allowing for around-the-clock use. The microgrid allows the island to stay fully powered for three days without sunlight and can recharge to full capacity in only seven hours.
A hospital, high school and elementary schools, fire and police stations and businesses will be using the new clean energy source.
"It's always sunny out here, and harvesting that energy from the sun will make me sleep a lot more comfortably at night, just knowing I'll be able to serve my customers," local resident and business owner Keith Ahsoon told SolarCity.
"This is part of making history," Ahsoon added. "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."
"Ta'u is not a postcard from the future, it's a snapshot of what is possible right now," Rive wrote. "Renewable power is an economical, practical solution for a growing number of locations and energy needs, and islands that have traditionally relied on fossil fuels can easily transition to microgrids powered by solar and storage today."