Cross-posted from Energy Trends Insider
I just spent two weeks on the Galapagos Islands. Their economies are driven almost entirely by Eco-tourism. Like the rest of us, the people of the Galapagos Islands are utterly dependent on affordable sources of energy for their existence.
As a result of a fuel tanker grounding and attendant oil spill in 2001, a consortium of energy companies from the G7, calling themselves e7 (created to bring renewable energy to developing nations), funded the installation of three wind turbines on San Cristobal, an island in the Galapagos archipelago, to minimize the amount of fuel that had to be delivered to run the generators. They also created a trust fund for maintenance and eventual removal of the turbines at the end of their twenty year life spans.
My youngest daughter is studying in San Cristobal. Her class took a field trip to the power station shortly after my arrival. I sent along a list of questions.
Her class was told that there is no wind for three or four months out of the year. They were also told that at least one of the five diesel generators is always running. When my daughter asked why the computer screen only had three icons for the generators when there are five of them, she was told that two of the three icons represent a pair of generators.
My daughter took the above photo of the computer screen in the control room. The diesel generators were producing over half of the power (162.5 + 222.5 =388 kW of power from the diesel generators, and 239 + 231+ 236 = 726 kW from the wind turbines).
The plant supervisor had explained to the class that the San Cristobal electric power system is a diesel/wind hybrid. I was impressed. Few people understand that virtually all wind turbine installations require the consumption of fossil fuel because they are part of a hybrid system that includes some form of fossil fueled peaking power plant to take over when there isn’t enough wind. A wind turbine without fossil fuel back-up is about as useful as a car without wheels.
The turbines are located on a hill about a mile away from another hill that has the only fresh water pond on the island (in an old volcanic caldera) which is frequented by frigate birds and the Galapagos White-cheeked pin-tail duck, which is endangered. The original site chosen for the turbines was abandoned when researchers discovered that it was in the flight path used by the endangered Galapagos Petrol returning to their nests in the night after fishing far out to sea.
While riding a bike on a dirt road leading away from the wind turbines, I found an endangered Galapagos Rail and a common species of Darwin’s Finch within a few miles of each other that had recently been hit by cars. This gave me an epiphany.
To put the bird and bat killing potential of the three wind turbines in terms of road kill, picture a 1/3 mile long oval race track in an area known to harbor endangered bird species, with nine equally spaced cars going around it at 180 mph, 24 hours a day (three turbines, each with three 100 foot long blades spinning at 25 revolutions per minute, 5,280 feet/mile, 60 minutes/hour, circumference = 2pR).
There are also three wind turbines (from a different manufacturer) located on the island of Baltra. Although it was always quite windy, I never saw them spinning. All of these turbines are essentially an experiment testing the viability of wind energy in the Galapagos Islands. Will they eventually fall into disrepair and join the rest of the abandoned structures on the islands?
I briefly discuss below a few other energy schemes that may also be effective at preventing oil spills.
Power from waste and Plasma gasification
Waste combustion is particularly popular in countries such as Japan where land is a scarce resource. Denmark and Sweden have been leaders in using the energy generated from incineration for more than a century, in localized combined heat and power facilities supporting district heating schemes. In 2005, waste incineration produced 4.8% of the electricity consumption and 13.7% of the total domestic heat consumption in Denmark. A number of other European countries rely heavily on incineration for handling municipal waste, in particular Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany and France.Although there is a recycling program, some of the Galapagos Islands are, literally, awash with trash. Sea turtles and sea birds will sometimes eat plastic debris and die as a result. I witnessed scrap metal being hauled to a dock and loaded by hand onto small barges which ferried it out to ships that had just unloaded cargo in the reverse order.
Dedicated bicycle lanes?
The future of the Galapagos Islands
Thanks to ecotourism, the standard of living in the Galapagos Islands is much higher than on the mainland of Ecuador, although still well below most developed nations. It’s illegal to migrate there unless you are married to a citizen of the islands, and it isn’t legal to marry somebody just so you can.
Fresh water is very limited and on some islands you shower and wash in salty water. Any kind of social upheaval that disrupts Eco-tourism or the supply of fossil fuels would be disastrous for the people and the wildlife of the Galapagos.
Unlike wildlife found at other Eco-tourism destinations like Costa Rica, the indigenous wildlife of the Galapagos never developed a fear of man. Nowhere else on the planet can you stand next to a sea lion at the fish market, share your fork with a finch (Darwin’s), wait for the occasional giant tortoise to cross the road …
…have a staring contest with a marine iguana.