Clean Power

Published on May 12th, 2014 | by Nicholas Brown


El Hierro To Be 1st Island Powered Exclusively By Wind & Water

May 12th, 2014 by  

El Hierro Canary IslandsUpon completion of its next wind farm in June, the island of El Hierro (one of Spain’s Canary Islands off the coast of Africa) will become the first in the world to be fully powered by wind and water! The island uses hydroelectric power during low-wind periods, and wind farms provide the power required to pump water back into the reservoir located in a volcanic crater 2,300 feet above sea level.

When more electricity is needed, the water is released through electricity-generating turbines and flows back into a lower reservoir. This simple (but useful) concept is called pumped hydroelectric storage (or pumped-storage hydroelectricity). “This system guarantees us a supply of electricity,” said the director of the Gorona del Viento wind power plant, Juan Manuel Quintero. This $75 million project replaced a set of diesel-fueled generators which would otherwise have significantly contributed to local air pollution, and of course climate change.

According to ThinkProgress, the wind farm can generate up to 11.5 MW, enough to power the island and its desalination plants, reducing CO2 emissions by 26,000 tons per year and oil usage by 40,000 barrels per annually. 11.5 MW is not much, but the island’s population is only 10,000. (An existing oil power station will be maintained in case it is needed.)

Yet Another Region Powered Entirely By Renewable Energy

This region is the first island to be powered entirely by wind and water, but not the first to be powered by renewable energy. Opponents of renewable energy claim that it is impossible to power a country with only renewable energy, citing the fact that wind farms cannot generate electricity all the time. The 100% wind-powered island of Samsø has proven this notion incorrect, however.

The inability of wind farms to generate electricity 24/7 can be addressed using an energy storage system which can provide a consistent supply of electricity all day, or can be addressed via backup generators. However, in the latter case, it can’t be considered 100% renewable.

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About the Author

writes on CleanTechnica, Gas2, Kleef&Co, and Green Building Elements. He has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, and geography. His website is:

  • Rick Kargaard

    I suspect the cost of importing oil made the cost of alternatives that much more attractive.

    • Yeah, islands are sue to remain at the forefront of a transition to renewables.

      • Rick Kargaard

        They are good pilot projects, for sure. The risks are that much lower

  • blossomsquare

    Hydro electricity is a good source of power than nuclear energy and coal generated power so appreciate this type of energy sources.

  • Byron Meinerth

    This island doesn’t have any heavy industry, but this is still a perfect example for areas with residential and commercial energy needs.

  • Mint

    Hydro storage is great when nature happens to gives you enough for your populace. New Zealand is the ultimate example with its high altitude lakes. It sorta sucks for nesting grounds, but that’s a minor issue, IMO. By adjusting how fast the hydro plants drain the water (you don’t even have to pump water back up), they can build up water levels and then cope with weeks of wind drought while still providing electricity to 4.5M people.

    Unfortunately, only a tiny percentage of the world’s population has it so easy when it comes to energy storage.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Unfortunately you don’t realize that the Earth is not flat.

      We have far more potential sites for PuHS than we could ever use.

      A recent survey of Europe found thousands of sites where either two appropriate reservoirs or one reservoir with a place for a second already exist.
      We’ve got ~80,000 existing dams in the US. We use ~2,500 for electricity generation. Of the remaining ~77,500 at least 10% are usable for PuHS based on a survey of dams on federal land.

      Then there are abandoned open pit and subsurface mines and rock quarries.
      There are even ‘turkey nests’
      And ‘holes in the ocean’.

      • Mint

        I’ve already addressed your pit mine claim before. It’s woefully inadequate, and even if every mine in the US could be used for PuHS it would be only 1% of what’s needed to eliminate FF.

        Quoting numbers of dams is utterly meaningless. What matters is the total energy that can be stored by varying the water level, which is something that environmentalists want to limit due to havoc on nesting grounds.

        PuHS that require constructing a reservoir, like the seawater example you pointed to, are not cheap at all. If you find a 200m elevation difference, each cubic meter of reservoir gives you 0.5kWh of storage. Want 2 days of storage for each 1kW of average wind output? Gotta dig 100 cubic meters of reservoir (hopefully on one side only). That’s 300 tonnes of rock. Your wind power costs $5000/kWavg, your reservoir costs maybe $6,000 ($20/tonne?), plus you need to add the piping/generator, and you still get blackouts when wind/sun is low for 3 days in a row.

        Here’s the bottom line:

        The need for storage is not new, nor is PuHS. There hasn’t been any revolutionary technology that lets us build dams or reservoirs cheaply. If PuHS was cheap, we’d have built it already to even out day-night demand variance. Exclusive wind/solar (without FF backup) needs orders of magnitude more storage, and you won’t be discharging all of it daily to amortize the cost over 7000 cycles over 20 years, so that needs 1/10th the cost or less.

        • Bob_Wallace

          PuHS is the cheapest storage we know how to install. It is very affordable.
          The reason we haven’t built more (we have been building some) is that we have little need at this point in time. Our grids are capable of 30+% wind/solar penetration before adjustments are needed. As we convert coal to NG that percentage rises. As we add EV to the grid that percentage rises.

          • Mint

            You claim there’s no need, but the price difference of electricity between peak hours and overnight prove otherwise.

            This need can fully cycle storage every single day, and thus is much cheaper to fulfill than renewable storage needs.

          • Bob_Wallace

            It does not.

            That has been amply studied.

          • Mint

            Where are these studies?

            Are you denying the difference in electricity cost between peak and off-peak?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Do a search on GreenTech Media.

  • Mahdi

    Austrian rural areas combine wind+solar+biomass cogen+biogas cogen and they are just fine.

  • jburt56

    Once they add solar it’ll definitely be a teeth-gnasher for the naysayers.

    • Calamity_Jean

      I’m a little surprised that they don’t already have a lot of solar. If the island needs a desalination plant, it’s probably sunny just about all day every day. Stick enough PV on enough roofs, and they could sell the oil burning power plant for scrap.

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