El Hierro – A Renewable Energy Haven in the Canary Islands

El Hierro, the smallest of the Canary Islands, holds a unique distinction as the only island to operate solely on wind and waterpower for 28 consecutive days. Designated as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and Geopark, this volcanic island, aged at 1.1 million years, is progressing towards achieving complete energy self-sufficiency through sustainable, renewable sources.

The island’s 10,000 inhabitants and local government share an unwavering commitment to the sustainability of El Hierro. At the forefront of its energy revolution is the Gorona del Viento hydroelectric power station, boasting an installed wind power capacity of 11.5 MW. This facility ingeniously combines wind generation with pumped storage hydroelectric generation. By harnessing wind energy to pump water into an upstream reservoir, the system maximises renewable sources by utilising hydropower turbines later on.

Recalling a drought in 1948 when water deliveries missed the island due to its perceived size and distance, elderly residents highlight the significant progress made in achieving self-sufficiency and reducing reliance on external aid for sustainability.

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The island achieved its initial milestone on 9 August 2015, running entirely on renewable sources for two consecutive hours. This accomplishment traces its roots back to a 1996 sustainable development plan aimed at enhancing the quality of life for the population and preserving natural areas.

The Gorona del Viento, operating at full capacity since July 2015, marked a turning point, becoming a pivotal facility for integrating renewables into El Hierro’s electricity system. Before its commissioning in 2014, renewables accounted for a mere 2.2% of the island’s electricity demand.

On 25 January 2018, the El Hierro power plant successfully met the entire island’s electricity demand for 18 consecutive days. This achievement captured global attention, showcasing that renewable energies offer viable solutions for those residing in isolated territories.

Profits generated from renewable energy utilisation are reinvested in developing more efficient water distribution systems, expanding solar power panels and supporting educational programs, contributing to the island’s continued journey toward sustainability.

COP28 is this year hosting Island Conservation – an organisation devoted to the restoration of islands for both people and wildlife. Hoping to have more communities follow the example of El Hierro, Island Conservation believe that COP28 will ‘send a signal to the world that islands are on the front lines of climate change and are implementing some of the most innovative solutions on the planet.’