David Papp Blog

How Tesla and SolarCity Made this Tropical Island Go Green

The island of Ta’u has gone green. And it’s not just because of the tropical foliage. Ta’u now boasts its own microgrid, thanks to technology from Tesla and SolarCity. The massive million-dollar project allows the island to run almost completely on solar power.

Ta’u is one of the 7 American Samoan Islands and one of 3 making up the National Park of American Samoa. Visitors enjoy lush greenery and breathtaking sea cliffs. Rustic trails wind through the volcanic remnant’s rocky terrain.

Before the microgrid was installed, Ta’u relied on diesel generators. However, the island’s isolated location northwest of Fiji made it vulnerable to shipping irregularities. Imported fossil fuel was a costly and unreliable energy source. When shipments fell behind schedule, authorities rationed power, sometimes restricting energy use to mornings and afternoons.

5,328 SolarCity panels now save the island millions of gallons of diesel fuel per year. Each generator burned 300 gallons of fuel per day; That’s 109,500 gallons of diesel fuel per year PER GENERATOR! The residents now enjoy clean energy, reliable power, and stable fuel costs. In addition, the entire array of panels (1.4 Megawatts) recharges in only 7 hours and a field of 60 Tesla Powerpacks stores the energy. Even with cloudy skies, the system can power the island for 3 days.


While Tau may be the first pre-existing island to be fully solar-powered, there are other man-made solar islands in use. England has a floating solar farm in the Queen Elizabeth II reservoir. The 23,000-panel structure powers local water treatment plants for London and the surrounding areas. In Japan, Kyocera is building an even more massive 51,000-module solar island to float in the Yamakura Dam Reservoir. Every 16,170 megawatt-hours of energy it provides annually will replace 19K barrels of oil.

Ta’u joins a handful of communities relying almost totally on green energy sources. El Hierro in the Canaries uses 100% wind power. Kodiak, Alaska gets 99.7% of its power from wind and hydro.

Tesla’s mission is to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustained energy.” According to CEO Elon Musk, solar has been part of Tesla’s master plan for the past 10 years. The company recently acquired SolarCity for 2.6 billion USD.

Look for Tesla’s newest developments in solar and battery power. Last fall the company unveiled its attractive new solar roof tiles. It plans to offer them for sale as early as summer, 2017.

After all, the Sun continuously give the Earth 173,000 Terawatts of power. That’s ten times more than the Earth’s population used in 2011. Why not put it to good use?