Meet the Island That Will Soon be Powered Entirely by Wind and Water

Written by Michael Graham Richard

With pumped water storage for when there’s no wind…

El Hierro, the smallest of the Canary Islands, which are owned by Spain and located off the coast of Africa (see the maps below), is jumping with both feet into renewable energy. Five wind turbines have been built on the northeastern tip of the island (you can see one in the photo above), for a total capacity of 11.5 megawatts, which is more than enough for the 10,000 people who live there.

But what happens when the wind doesn’t blow?

Backup power will come from pumped water storage. Surplus power from the wind turbines will be used to pump water from a reservoir near the harbor to another larger reservoir near a volcanic crater about 2,300 feet (700 meters) above. This means that when there’s not enough wind to generate the power needed by the island, they can simple open the valves on the top reservoir and gravity does the rest, bringing the water back down, and in between turbines capture some of that kinetic energy and turn it into electricity. No need for batteries, just good ol’ gravity!

Credit: Apple Maps/Screen capture

The wind farm + pumped water storage project will cut CO2 emissions by about 18,700 tonnes per year and eliminate the island’s annual consumption of 40,000 barrels of oil, though El Hierro will maintain its fuel oil power station as a back up, just in case.

Credit: Apple Maps/Screen capture

Hopefully all goes well this summer when the wind farm is fully operational and other island nations take inspiration from El Hierro. Many islands burn oil to produce electricity, but wind, pumped hydro and solar are cleaner and potentially much cheaper alternatives over the long term (it costs something at first, but after that ‘fuel’ is free!).

Above is a pumped-hydro station. The drawing isn’t based on the El Hierro setup, but it should give you an idea of how it works.


This post originally appeared on TreeHugger

Photo Credit: Erik Streb via Wikimedia Commons

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Carrie-Anne Brown
Carrie-Anne Brown6 months ago

thanks for sharing :)

Warren Webber
Warren Webber10 months ago

Live long and prosper!

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompsonabout a year ago

Now if we could just get Fossil fuel users on the bandwagon.

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H.about a year ago

I really hope this works well and then it can be an example and starting point for other countries to follow.

Vicky Barman
Vicky Barman1 years ago

good move

Gerald L.
Gerald L.1 years ago

@ im F; on May 8, 2014
What about the energy cost of pumping the water back up into the reservoir? The article says surplus wind-generated energy is used, and that may be so, but it seems that such a process would use an incredible amount of energy.

Hers a better idea, "wave energy" at a local cottage lake which is Off Grid, no power lines, a WW2 army engineer was asked why is your water tower overflowing, are you not wasting energy pumping the water into the tank just to let it overflow?

He took them to the dock, lifted up a plank and showed them his ingenious device, a cam shaft driven gas pump off a automotive motor with a toilet tank float attached to the lever arm which is normally moved by the rotating engine camshaft. I do not know how much head pressure it can overcome, but he was ingenious.

Every time a wave moved the float up and down or if a boat passed by on a windless day it pumped water.

bonnie j.
bonnie j.1 years ago


To use other than those is to intentionally kill birds.

Unacceptable on every conceivable level.

bonnie j.
bonnie j.1 years ago

Wind turbines kill birds... thousands and thousands and thousands of them. Cats kill Billions. NO TO WIND AND NO TO CATS.


Robert O.
Robert O.1 years ago

Sounds like a great idea and a great place. Hopefully this will be the first of many other locales to be powered entirely by wind and hydro power.

Peter d.
Peter d.1 years ago

For this island sun and wind are suitable, other pacific islands use gasifiers to burn organic residues to produce electric power. Backupsystems as a sunbattery storage electricity in small PV-projects at single homes as a backup system, so they can go off - grid.