Demonstration activity in a small island of the Canary Islands, on the integration of renewable energy and energy storage.  As a result a company was created to installed and operate the system, and in the process jobs have been created.

The story shows how energy policy for promotion of renewable energies can have other positive externalities, besides the most obvious one of reducing energy dependence from imported polluting fossil fuels, and reduction of Green House Gas emissions.

Projects on the promotion of renewable energy in European islands have added social benefits from the creation of local quality jobs, especially for the young. These jobs are not only created during the installation phase of the systems, but afterwards in the operation and maintenance of the renewable energy infrastructures.

The Wind-pumped-hydro power station of El Hierro began by being a project proposal submitted by ITC, the Island Authority of El Hierro and ENDESA (local Utility), to a call of the 5th FP of the EC. Project was approved and granted EC financing for a period that went from 2002 to 2007. Main deliverables of the project were the engineering document of the system and the creation of the company GORONA DEL VIENTO, which installed and is currently operating the system that provides clean RES to cover 60 % of electricity yearly demand of the island.

The wind-pumped-hydro system includes a wind farm (11.5 MW), a hydroelectric plant (11.32 MW), a pumping station (6 MW) and two water reservoirs (height difference of 700 m). Wind turbines supply electricity to island loads, and surplus energy to a pumping station that raises water from the lower reservoir (150,000 m³ at sea level) to the upper reservoir (380,000 m³ at 700 m) to store energy. When the wind does not blow, the water is allowed to fall to the hydro station to generate electricity. When there is not enough wind and no stored water, the diesel thermal power plant that had previously been on the island and remains for backup, comes into operation. During the twenty years after its commissioning in 2014 (the wind-pumped-hydro system it is expected to avoid the consumption of 6,000 tons of diesel (40,000 barrels of oil) and the emission of 19,000 tons of CO2.

Evidence of success (results achieved): 

  • Renewable energy sources (RES) penetration of 60 % in the isolated electric island system of El Hierro. This means reductions of 60 % on imported fossil fuel for electricity generation, and 60 % reductions on Green House Gas emissions in the electricity generation sector.
  • Creation of 18 high quality direct permanent jobs in operation.

Short summary of the practice:   

  • Island population: 10,587 inhabitants
  • Wind farm: 11.5 MW (5 x 2,3 MW each)
  • Pump station: 6 MW (2 x1.5 MW + 6 x 0.5 MW)
  • Hydro station: 11.32 MW (4 x 2.83 MW)
  • Lower reservoir: 150,000 m³ at sea level
  • Upper reservoir: 400,000 m³ at height 700 m

Main difficulties were the need for financing of the high initial investment cost of the project (83 M€). The long payback period and uncertainty on evolution of conventional fossil fuel made risky the investment on the Wind-pumped-hydro power station. The solution came from a capital grant given by the central Spanish government (35 M€), and a retribution scheme that allow cash flow and financial capacity to return the payment of a bank loan needed.

Job creation was not initially a main concerned of the project, because the main objective was to maximize RES penetration in the island electrical grid. Nevertheless the project managed to create local jobs during the installation phase, and now permanent jobs in operation and maintenance of the system.

The project has a high possibility of being replicated in other islands around the world, for maximizing RES and creating quality jobs, that can help mitigate the problem of unemployment among the young. As a matter of fact in the Greek island of Ikaria a similar system has been put in operation, inspired on the previous experience in El Hierro Island.

The Wind-pumped-hydro system is providing a solution for energy self-supplied which is sustainable form both the environmental and economic perspective. Is allowing creating economic value from a local resource, the wind, and in the process is creating jobs allowing mitigating the problem of local young unemployment.

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