Spanish Island Aims for Energy Self-Sufficiency

In one of the first examples of its kind, one of the Canary Island chain’s smallest islands could soon be powered entirely by a combination of renewable energy systems.

Madrid, Spain – June 22, 2004 [SolarAccess.com] The Spanish utility Endesa has embarked on a plan to build a hybrid wind power, pumped-hydroelectric power plant on the small island of El Hierro. The Spanish-owned Canary Islands are located south-west of Spain and north-west of Africa, directly in front of the coast of Morocco. The El Hierro hydro-wind project entails an estimated investment of Euro 24 million (US$29 million). It stems from an agreement signed between the El Hierro town council and the Canary Island government, through the Canary Island Technological Institute, to meet the island population’s electricity demand with renewable energies. Like many islands ranging from this small island in the Canary’s to the big Island of Hawaii, a vast majority of electrical needs are derived from imported sources leading to price vulnerability and transportation accidents with fossil fuels. In 2000, El Hierro, with an area of approximately 278 km(2) and a population of roughly 10,000 inhabitants, was declared a “Biosphere Reserve” by Unesco for its preservation of the island’s environment and cultural values. This gave rise to the El Hierro hydro-wind project. Endesa has agreed to take a stake in the company that will oversee the project for the hydro-wind power station. The company said this would represent the first area in the world whose power is entirely supplied from renewable energy. The project entails the construction of a 9.9 MW pumped hydro power station equipped with three 3 MW Pelton turbines. It will operate as follows: the hydro plant will be located between two man-made reservoirs placed at different levels, generating power through the hydro powered turbines, leveraging the different levels between the upper and lower reservoirs. The energy obtained from the wind farm will be used to pump the water in the opposite direction. The project also includes a desalination plant, which will use water from the man-made reservoirs both to fill them up initially and for subsequent supply needs due to the evaporation caused by wind and heat. The surplus drinking water produced by the desalination plant will be used for irrigation on the island. Endesa did not provide any information on what capacity and make the wind turbines would be. For the construction and operation of the hydro wind plant a company called Gorona del Viento El Hierro, S.A. will be set up, in which ENDESA will hold a 30 percent interest. Other investors include the El Hierro town council and the Canary Island Technological Institute. The project has been presented to the European Commission, where it attracted a great deal of interest due to its innovative use of clean energy. Specifically, a demonstration of the project was given to the European Commission on Energy and the Environment. This organization has awarded the group a grant of Euro 2 million (US$2.4 million) to carry out the technical studies and detailed plans, in additional to promotional activities. Also, the project was presented last week at the fourth European Conference on Sustainable Cities held in Aalborg, Denmark. It was one of the five European projects selected out of a total of 280.
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