Sunshine, solar and the Galapagos?

July 26, 2018 | Categorized in: | By: Deborah Kilcollins

There is the often-repeated story told about the fuel tanker in 2001, carrying a belly full of diesel fuel heading to San Cristobal Island when it struck a reef. More than 570,000 liters of diesel oil poured into the surrounding waters, tainting the water, the shorelines and threatening the plants, birds and marine life unique to the islands.

That incident served as a sort of clarion call to many who live in or are concerned with the fate of the Galapagos Islands.

After that accident, an international consortium of energy companies from G7 countries created the San Cristobal Wind Project, which called for setting up three 51-meter/167-foot tall wind turbines plus two sets of solar panels in 2007, to enable San Cristobal to reduce its reliance on imported fuel.  The island has been able to generate 30% of their energy through renewable sources.

The Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership (GSEP) spearheaded a $10-million investment in new clean energy resources for the island to try to make it a model of self-sufficiency for this ecologically unique archipelago as well as for other islands. They completed the first large-scale wind park in Ecuador and one of the world’s largest wind-diesel hybrid systems. As a result, approximately 30% of the island’s electricity needs are met, complemented by two 6kW solar PV systems.

According to GSEP, since 2016, the Island has “reduced diesel consumption by a cumulative total of 2.3 million gallons, avoided 21,000 tons of CO2 emissions and reduced the risk of a fuel spill.” The reduction in emissions cuts come from both limits on local generation and the need for tankers to travel the 621 miles from mainland Ecuador. Those numbers make San Cristobal a model for the other main 18 Galapagos islands, which collectively rely on renewables for roughly 20 percent of electricity production.

The wind power project on San Cristobal is noteworthy for reductions in fossil fuel usage. The bonus is that it seems to have boosted the health and numbers of the endangered species. The project was established with an environmental management plan that outlines methods to protect unique bird populations, especially the critically endangered Galapagos petrel.

One idea was to locate the turbines on a hill far away from petrel nesting sites. Transmission lines were buried to avoid interfering with petrel flights between nesting sites and the sea. A program worked to reduce invasive species such as feral cats, rats and plants.  The results show that since the implementation of these measures, no petrels have been harmed in the wind project’s lifetime. In addition, efforts to control pest species have led to an increased hatching success rate from 85 to 96 percent and the petrel population seems to be increasing.

What’s this about an eco airport?

The headline states that Baltra Airport in the Galapagos is “world’s first 100% eco airport has opened for business.”

The Galapagos Islands airport became world’s first to be run entirely on solar and wind power. That’s right, Baltra Airport in the Galapagos is run entirely on power generated by sun and wind. Beyond that, 80% per cent of materials used were recycled from the previous infrastructure. Built in 2012, the airport had already been awarded ‘green status.’

There’s more…

Obviously, boats are the primary mode of transportation in the Galapagos Islands. But drawbacks include fuel and motor oil spills, increased pollution from engine smoke. The World Wildlife Fund and the Galapagos National Park joined together on a project to create a solar-powered transfer boat.

This innovative watercraft used an existing boat that the park had previously confiscated from an illegal fishing operation. The boat now operates entirely on solar power, no fuel and no emissions. It incorporates eight solar panels on top of the canopy; two large batteries provide eight hours of power; an electric motor that produce speeds adequate for water taxis; a motor so lightweight it can be carried easily for service. All this requires little maintenance.

The Finch Bay Hotel is joining the solar revolution with the Finch Bay Solar Panga (formerly the Finch Bay I) transfer boat, which has been retrofitted to work with a fully electric motor. Four solar panels are on the boat’s rooftop to provide provisional power to the boat’s electric engine. The boat itself will receive much of the charge directly from the grid at offices in Puerto Ayora. These lightweight solar panels that are firmly attached to the stainless-steel rooftop will be responsible for transforming sunlight into electricity, which will then be stored in the boat’s batteries. This sustainable project in Galapagos was carried out in tandem with Kara Solar, a highly reputable group known for bringing solar-powered transport to the Achuar communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

We applaud all of those individuals, groups and businesses working to insure a sustainable future for these unique and irreplaceable islands.