Powered by wind and water: The Canary Island proving it is possible to run on renewables

Powered by wind and water: The Canary Island proving it is possible to run on renewables

The smallest of the Canary Islands, El Hierro is the only island in the world to have functioned for 28 days in a row using only wind and water power.

Declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and Geopark, the 1.1 million-year-old volcanic island is on route to being 100 per cent energy self-sufficient through clean, renewable sources.

Its 10,000 inhabitants and local government are equally committed to the sustainability of the island.

The Gorona del Viento hydroelectric power station, with an installed wind power capacity of 11.5 MW, is the main source of electricity generation on the island.

It combines wind generation with pumped storage hydroelectric generation. This means it uses part of the energy produced by wind to pump water to a reservoir upstream so that it can then be used to move hydropower turbines to make the most of renewable sources of electricity generation later on.

Sacred Tree Garoe in El Hierro
Sacred Tree Garoe in El Hierro - Canva

Renewable energy has been growing since 2015

Elderly residents of El Hierro recall a drought that hit in 1948, when ships meant to deliver water missed the island because it was “too small and too far away”. Since then, progress has been made on self sufficiency and not needing to rely on outside help for sustainability.

El Hierro’s first consecutive stretch of time using just renewable energy was on 9 August 2015, when the entire island spent two hours running on only renewable sources.

It was an accomplishment born from a 1996 sustainable development plan to guarantee an improved level and quality of life for the population and conservation of nature areas.

Gorona del Viento, a hydro-wing power plant, began operating at full capacity in July 2015 and since then it has been a key facility for the integration of renewables into the electricity system. Before it was commissioned in 2014, renewables supplied only 2.2 per cent of electricity demand on El Hierro.

On 25 January 2018 and for 18 consecutive days, the El Hierro power plant managed to supply all of the island's demand for electricity. Since then, the world watched as the tiny Atlantic island continued to prove that renewable energies are a viable solution for those living in isolated territories around the world.

Any profit made from using renewable energy sources is channelled back into creating more efficient water distribution systems, solar power panels, and educational programmes.

El Hierro is a Biosphere Reserve

In 2000, El Hierro was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve - a title reserved for areas promoting solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use.

Driving along El Hierro’s winding roads, there are limited man-made constructions among the landscapes.

Instead, dramatic views of black volcanic rubble, lunar wildernesses, sheer cliffs, or lush forests can be found in every direction.