International Study of RE-Regions: El Hierro Island, Spain

Keywords: renewable energy region, 100% renewable energy self sufficiency region, El-Hierro, renewable energy in El Hierro.

El Hierro is a Spanish Island which is located in the coast of Northern Africa (Figure 1).[1] With 276 km² and more than 10000 inhabitants, El Hierro is the smallest island of the Canary archipelago (Spain).[2] Spain has declared that El Hierro, will be soon carbon neutral completely. The energy for all 10.500 inhabitants, will be generated from a combination of hydroelectricity and wind power.[3] The green electricity plan is designed to cut the island’s annual carbon dioxide emissions by 18,700 tonnes.[4]

The island has its own electricity grid; it is totally isolated as the significant sea depths make any interconnection impossible.[2] By the year 2009, El Hierro will receive 100% of its electricity supply from renewable energy sources. As stated by the government in Madrid: “El Hierro will be the first island in the world totally supplied by renewable energy, and the plan should be completely rolled out by 2009.[4]

Objectives of Renewable Energy Development

The bet on a strategy aiming at the attainment of a 100% RES island has already appeared within the Sustainable Development Plan of the island, supported by UNESCO, which defends an advanced concept of Biosphere Reserve as an insular development model and laboratory. In the continuity of this approach for sustainable development, the main objective of El Hierro project is to meet the energy demand of the island using a 100% RES strategy.[2]

Wind-Hydroelectric System to Supply Bulk of Power

After developing for the past 10 years, within the next 1-2 years the island will be entirely powered by renewable energy sources, an onshore 10 megawatt wind farm and hydroelectric power with supply 80% of the power.[7] Most of the islands power will be taken from 10 megawatt hydroelectric infrastructure. Excess wind power[3] which is not fed into the grid will be used to pump water uphill into one of two reservoirs (storage pond), currently under construction, for hydroelectric usage.[7] The potential energy of that water will then become a kind of gigantic battery when the wind isn’t so strong. This system basically allows wind power to become a steady, instead of intermittent, source of power. The wind turbines will also power a desalination plant for the islands. A diesel generator will be maintained just in case the carbon-neutral system fails. There is no exactly time when the system will start working, although the wind farm and pump stations have been already being built.[3] The project has currently budgeted approximately €54.3 million.[7] The 3D simulation of wind-hydro power station can be view in Video 1.

Other renewable energy sources will be called also into play is solar power. Solar power will play a part with grid-connected solar panels (being installed), with the initial emphasis on public buildings; solar thermal water heaters. Biomass and biogas from sewage and municipal solid waste are expected to enter the picture in later stages of the project.[7]

El Hierro’s Renewable Energy Project to be Exported

The EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, says that the department’s intention is to export the project ‘El-Hierro 100% Renewable’ to the rest of Europe. This project aims to encourage all the island’s energy to be generated exclusively by renewable electricity. Among the ideas will be promoted are the method of desalination and hydro-wind, also called hydraulic versa (which can store the energy produced by renewable sources to use when needed).[8]