Lonely Planet Writer

Galapagos Islands go green with wind and solar power to eliminate all fossil fuels

One of the world’s most famous ecosystems in the Galapagos Islands is hoping to secure the future of its unique habitats by eventually eliminating all burning of fossil fuels.

Galapagos Islands, 2010.
Galapagos Islands, 2010. Image by cdorobek / CC BY 2.0

A pilot project of just three wind turbines and two sets of solar panels on San Cristóbal, the second biggest island in the archipelago, has been able to provide 30% of its electricity for the 6,000 strong population. The project has helped cut shipments of fuel dramatically – with 8.7 million less litres of diesel fuel required, resulting in a saving of 21,000 tonnes in carbon dioxide emissions.

Diesel shipments to the islands can be high-risk with unpredictable weather and the inevitable possibility of a fuel spill. In January 2011, a tanker hit a reef and spilled about 570,000 litres of diesel oil into the ocean … and only fortuitous winds and currents helped avoid an ecological disaster. The islands also have a second important reason to avoid constant fuel shipments, as the chances of invasive species coming on shore grow higher with every delivery.

The wind turbines have been specially located to avoid threatening native birds and as part of the project, efforts are being made to cut rogue populations of invasive rats and feral cats. Tourism on the island has been increasing despite the remote locations of the island, fuelled by their Unesco world heritage status and their history as a natural wonder. However, visitor numbers have to be limited because of the delicate ecosystem, and the only flights to the Galapagos come directly from Quito in Ecuador.

Galapagos Ecological Airport was built on Baltra Island
Galapagos Ecological Airport was built on Baltra Island Image by Ecogal

The eight-year pilot renewable energy project cost just $10 million according to the Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership, a not-for-profit made up of eleven major world electricity firms. An expansion of the plan will see renewable energy shore across the island boosted to 70% with an eventual aim of eliminating all fossil fuels.

The Galapagos are made up of a chain of 19 islands in the Pacific Ocean, 1,000 kilometres from the coast of Ecuador and already boast the world’s first fully eco-airport. The islands were first made famous in the Western World by Charles Darwin, who formulated his theory of evolution from the remarkable range of bird, animal and plant-life there.