Tesla and SolarCity reveal an entire island powered by solar

22 Nov 2016

American Samoa. Image: Sorin Colac/Shutterstock

Days after Tesla confirmed its acquisition of SolarCity, the solar energy company has revealed how it has overhauled a Pacific island to get all of its energy from the sun.

The deal that saw Elon Musk’s Tesla acquire the solar energy company SolarCity this week appeared to be a good fit for a company heavily investing in home energy and electric vehicles.

Now the Tesla co-founder can revel in the announcement from SolarCity – founded by Musk’s cousins Peter and Lyndon Rive – that it has powered an entire island using its solar energy generation and storage technology.

The island of Ta’u in American Samoa, located nearly 6,500km off the US west coast, is as remote as they come with only 600 people living on it.

Due to its remoteness, however, the islanders have lived with the problem of relying on diesel fuel powering a number of generators to keep electricity flowing.

Now, following a massive construction effort, the new Tesla purchase has managed to completely end its reliance on imported fossil fuels in favour of a 1.4MW solar energy generation facility in the space of just one year.

Aside from generating enough energy to power the island, the 60 Tesla Powerpacks – seen by Elon Musk as the future of smart grid technology – can store up to 6MW of power in reserve.

This, SolarCity said, means that even if the sunny Pacific island were to be overshadowed for three days, it would still have enough power to keep the islanders going day and night.

The resulting savings should be significant for American Samoa and the people of Ta’u who will now save on the costs of nearly 400,000 litres of diesel fuel each year.

It will mark a considerable turnaround for the people of Ta’u who have experienced a number of instances of outages due to unforeseen problems like being able to receive shipments of fuel.

A local resident, Keith Alsoon, said that there could be a period of a few months where a boat cannot arrive on the island.

“We rely on that boat for everything, including importing diesel for the generators for all of our electricity,” he said.

“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.”

SolarCity Ta'u

The SolarCity generator on the island of Ta’u. Image: SolarCity

SolarCity has now said that it hopes to use Ta’u as an example for similar islands across the globe.

“Ta’u is not a postcard from the future, it’s a snapshot of what is possible right now,” the company said in a blog post.

“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.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic