El Hierro (Canary Islands), Spain
El Hierro, the most western of the Canary Islands located off the Westafrican coast, inhabits roughly 10.000 people.
The island has a long history of environmental leadership. Back in the early 1980s, a development model that put emphasis on the respect of the natural environment and the conservation of natural resources was adopted. In 1997, the Council of the island adopted the El Hierro Sustainability Plan which envisaged the island to become a self-sustained location in the face of the global climate crisis and persistently high fossil fuel prices.
Within that framework, a large project named “El Hierro Hydro-Wind Plant” was launched. During the first stage, a technical feasibility study was carried out. The project cost 65 million euros and was implemented by three closely cooperating entites: the island government of the Canaries (which owns a 60% stake in the project), the Canaries Institute of Technology (which owns 10%), and a private Spanish energy and utility group (which owns the remaining 30%). The project receives the strong support of the citizens and the participation of both public and private institutions which also contribute with economic investment. Furthermore, international institutes, of business partners, as well as funding bodies such as the European Union played important roles.
A key factor for the success of the 100% RE target is El Hierro’s topography. The wind blows strongly and rather steadily. Excess electricity from the 11,5 MW wind farm is used to pump water into an empty volcanic crater well above sea level. When the wind is weak, the water is run through turbines that secure a steady supply of electricity.
El Hierro’s 5 turbine wind farm and hydro plant provides 80% of the island’s energy needs, with the remaining 20% generated through solar thermal collectors and grid connected photovoltaic systems. Additionally, biomass exploitation possibilities are evaluated and electric vehicles are planned to replace fuel-based cars. Another step towards self-dependency is taken through the installation of desalination plants that will provide the island with fresh water.
Barriers and difficulties relating to the remote location of the island resulting in costly transport of material and the recent submarine volcano eruption were overcome.
This project will avoid an annual consumption of 6,000 tonnes of diesel, which is equal to 40,000 barrels of oil that would have to be imported by boat to the island, thus creating a savings of over 1.8 million euros a year. Likewise, the yearly emission of 18,700 tonnes of CO2 –the main cause of the greenhouse effect– will be avoided.
Due to a sustained political vision, a high level of environmental awareness among the population and the strong desire for greater self-sufficiency, El Hierro was in the position to become a true pioneer. It is now starting to disseminate knowledge to its neighboring islands. Furthermore, officials from Aruba, Hawaii, Samso in Denmark, Oki in Japan and Indonesia have shown interests in El Hierros self-sustainable energy system.