First of five wind turbines of 2.5 MW on El Hierro island five minutes after assembly

Life can be inconvenient living on a tiny island out in the middle of the ocean. Sometimes you have to do without modern-day conveniences such as electricity. But not residents of the El Hierro island, located just off the coast of Spain. Islanders on El Hierro are completing an ingenious means of generating electricity using wind and a huge “battery” the size of a lake.

El Hierro by SPOT SatelliteOn El Hierro island, they have built five huge wind turbines that will generate electricity using nothing more than the strong winds that blow across the island. The problem with wind generated power however, is what to do on days when the wind does not blow. Typically in small installations, a battery is installed which stores the wind generated power for use on days when the wind dies down (a similar method is used to store solar-generated power for use on cloudy days). But El Hierro has 10,000 power-hungry residents – way too many to support using a battery – and this is where our story gets interesting.

To keep the electricity flowing when the gales soften, residents built a huge lake located on a low spot on the island. Then they built an even bigger reservoir on the top of a very tall volcano located on the end of the island. When the wind blows, any extra power is used to pump water from the small lake to the lake on top of the volcano. Then gravity causes the water to flow downhill, into the smaller lake below. As the water flows downhill, it turns electricity-generating turbines (just like the ones used for power plants on rivers or dams), generating electricity for the people living on the island.

The flow of water can be stopped and started when needed. The water is stored in the lake on top of the volcano.  If the wind dies down, residents simply pull the plug and let the water run downhill to turn the turbine. In effect, they’ve created a giant lake-sized battery!

The whole process is called “pump-storage hydroelectricity” and has been tested in other parts of the world. If the experiment succeeds, El Hierro will become what is known as a “zero impact society” meaning, they will create all the electricity they need on their own without using burning coal or gas that pollutes the planet.  They will be the first island in the world to become energy self-sufficient.

Update:  El Hierro residents didn’t stop with electricity generation.  To keep from shipping drinking water to the island, El Hierro residents also built three “desalination plants” that will remove salt from the ocean water making it drinkable.  Are these guys smart or what?

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