By Anthony Tisot
The evolution of renewable energy in the Galapagos Islands
As one of the world’s most unique and ecologically sensitive regions, the Galapagos Islands are a natural choice for green energy technology. To help preserve the delicate ecological balance of this
world heritage site, the government of Ecuador has embarked upon a mission to eliminate fossil fuel-based power production from the Galapagos archipelago by 2015.
As the first step in this initiative, the community of San Cristóbal is employing renewable energy technology as an environmentally friendly complement to the island’s existing diesel-powered generating plant. In 2007, San Cristóbal’s new wind energy facility came online as part of a hybrid wind-diesel solution, generating electricity for the island’s 6,000 inhabitants while reducing the
community’s diesel fuel consumption by half. Appropriately, even the flashing obstruction lights that sit atop the three giant wind turbines use renewable energy (in this case solar energy) as a
showcase of environmentally friendly technology at work.
Adapting to life on the islands
Located on the equator some 600 miles from the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos archipelago consists of 13 large islands and more than a hundred smaller islands, islets, and rocks that are home to
some of the world’s rarest birds and sea creatures. Although mariners have frequented the islands for 500 years, attempts to maintain self-sufficient communities in this remote location have historically proven challenging and, at times, problematic. Invasive plants and animals introduced intentionally or incidentally over the years have plagued the native species and threatened their habitats.
Ongoing efforts to restore and protect the region’s ecological balance have seen some success but, in recent years, a new threat emerged as the growing communities and expanding tourist trade demanded ever-more energy from the region’s existing diesel-based power generation facilities. To reduce diesel consumption, while ensuring a reliable power supply in all seasons, the
project’s three massive wind turbines would work in conjunction with San Cristóbal’s existing 650 kilowatt diesel generators. Together, this hybrid wind-diesel system would fulfill the
island’s power requirements while reducing CO2 emissions by an estimated 2,800 tons per year and cutting diesel fuel shipments by fifty percent.
A solar-powered lighting solution
With two airports in the vicinity, effective obstruction markers were a necessity on the three 50-meter tall structures; although, as lighting can sometimes prove hazardous to birds, these
too were chosen with care. For this project, Made Tecnologías Renovables selected a set of solar-powered LED (light emitting diode) obstruction lights from Canadian manufacturer
Carmanah Technologies Corporation. Initially designed for the United States Air Force and approved for use in the Galapagos by the Ecuadorian Aviation Authority, the solar-powered obstruction
lights were found to be an effective and environmentally friendly lighting solution.
Suitable for locations with limited access to sunlight, the stand-alone beacons require just 1.5 hours of sunlight per day to operate effectively—a valuable asset in an area where seasonal conditions
can result in a thick, persistent fog at higher elevations. Another benefit was the lights’ ability to endure vibration and buffeting from the elements while shielding all components—
solar modules, batteries, LEDs, and electronics—within a compact and durable enclosure.