El Hierro, of the Canary Islands, will soon become the first totally energy self-sufficient island in the world.

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A Spanish island with 100% renewable energy
By Jerry Brownstein
El Hierro, which is the smallest and most southerly of the Canary Islands, will soon become the first totally energy self-sufficient island in the world. Its population of around 12,000 people – who had previously always relied on diesel generators to produce their electricity – have now invested in new energy technology that is clean, sustainable and much less expensive.

This new system is called ‘Gorona del Viento’, and it is an innovative combination of wind and hydroelectric power. Most of the time its five large windmills will provide more than enough power for all of the island’s electricity needs plus three desalination plants for clean water. The surplus power from the windmills will be used to pump water 700 metres up into the crater of a long-extinct volcano. This will create the reservoir that is necessary for hydropower.

When the wind stops blowing or electricity demand is high, water from the 500,000 cubic metre reservoir will be released into turbines to create up to 11.3 megawatts of hydroelectric power. The water will then be collected in an artificial lower reservoir before being pumped up again when the winds pick up. The system has a sensor that can tell within five seconds if the wind is too low, and then it automatically starts the hydropower so there is never a dip in the supply.

Engineer Juan Manuel Quintero says that the technology they use to harvest energy from the wind and water isn’t new or revolutionary, but the way they have integrated the two is the secret to their success. He says: “We did not invent the wind or water technology... the innovation we made is hooking up the two systems together.”

The president of the El Hierro island council describes it this way: "When our residents turn on the lights they think, 'We are different than the rest of the world, because we are catching electricity from these windmills and not from conventional engines.’ ” Now that the island is completely powered by renewable energy, El Hierro is setting their next energy project in motion – all cars on the island will be electric by 2020.


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