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Tesla shows off by powering a whole island using only the sun

To celebrate the $US2.6 billion acquisition of solar power company SolarCity, company-of-the-future Tesla announced a massive solar energy project on the island of Ta’u, in American Samoa.

Specifically, Elon Musk and his team have installed a 1.4-megawatt microgrid of 5328 solar panels, which means they can fully run the island for three days without sun. And they can charge up the whole system again in seven hours. Wowzers.

This is a major deal.

Ta‘ū, home to 600 people, sits about 6500 kilometres from the West Coast of the US, and up until now they have relied on 415,000 litres of diesel a year to power their homes and business, which is problematic for several reasons.

Firstly, the environmental cost of consuming that much diesel is astronomical. Not only is diesel a non-renewable energy source, it is also not a clean fuel, and burning it produces large quantities of noxious pollutants.

This obviously contributes to the terrifying problem of global warming, and nowhere are the effects of that felt more keenly than on an island only 44 square kilometres in size.

“This project will help lessen the carbon footprint of the world,” local resident Keith Ahsoon said in a SolarCity blog post. “Living on an island, you experience global warming firsthand. Beach erosions and other noticeable changes are a part of life here. It’s a serious problem, and this project will hopefully set a good example for everyone else to follow.”

Secondly, with the rising cost of fuel, the financial cost of shipping in that much diesel was beginning to cripple the already fragile economy.

“Factoring in the escalating cost of fuel, along with transporting such mass quantities to the small island, the financial impact is substantial,” the blog added.

Thirdly, the necessity of physically bringing in the energy source meant the power supply on the island was always uncertain.

“I remember growing up using candlelight. And now, in 2016, we were still experiencing the same problems,” Ahsoon added. “I recall a time they weren’t able to get the boat out here for two months. We rely on that boat for everything, including importing diesel for the generators for all of our electricity… Water systems here also use pumps, everyone in the village uses and depends on that.”

Buying SolarCity was a complex and risky move for Musk and Tesla, but he remains confident that it is a “blindingly obvious” step in his Master Plan.

The project was funded by the American Samoa Economic Development Authority, the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Interior, and took less than a year to complete.

About the author

Hannah loves to travel but can’t read a map, so she has plenty of good stories to tell.

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