Lonely Planet Writer

The smallest Canary Island is aiming to become self-sufficient for electrical energy

The smallest of the Canary Islands, El Hierro, is aiming to become the first island in the world to become fully self-sufficient for electrical energy. To achieve this, the 268-square-kilometre island has installed five wind turbines, two water deposits, four hydraulic turbines and a pumping station in order to make the energy it requires.

A wind turbine near the upper reservoir of the Gorona power station on El Hierro. Image: Desiree Martin/ AFP Photo / Getty Images

The island’s innovative green energy project began in 2014 and has turned El Hierro into a clean energy lab for its population of under 11,000 people. The €82 million (US$101 million) project focuses on harnessing the strong winds and docility of still water. In 2016, the Gorona del Viento hydro-wind power plant produced 40.7% of the island’s total diesel demand, and 46.5% in 2017. In February of this year, the island managed to meet power demand with 100% renewable energy for 18 consecutive days, and it aims to produce in excess of 60% of its needs this year. The ultimate aim is to become fully self-sufficient.

The Canary Island of El Hierro is aiming to become fully renewable. Image: Martina Whitehead / EyeEm

El Hierro has been dreaming of becoming self-sufficient for more than 30 years, because it makes the island less reliant on diesel arriving from Tenerife, which is 200km away. The problem is that when the weather is bad and sailing conditions hazardous, transport vessels can’t come near the port, sometimes for weeks, which has caused blackouts in the past. Until the beginning of the 1970s, El Hierro only had electricity from dusk to midnight, and even at that, it was only in the capital and two other towns.

Faro de Orchilla lighthouse, Punta de la Orchilla, El Hierro, Canary Islands, Spain. Image: Marco Bittel

Designated as a Biosphere Reserve in 2000, the island is also keen to make the switch to electric cars, and will offer incentives to persuade residents to change over. It also aims to build a composting plant to turn half the island’s rubbish into agricultural fertiliser.