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Decorative diesel

From the Guardian

South Pacific island ditches fossil fuels to run entirely on solar power

Using more than 5,000 solar panels and 60 Tesla power packs the tiny island of Ta’u in American Samoa is now entirely self-sufficient for its electricity supply – though the process of converting has been tough and pitted with delays.

From the website of the government of  American Samoa

The project description lists 1,410 kW of Solar panels and 6,000 kWh of battery storage.  Also, three new 275KW Cummins Diesel Generators...

The latter presumably for decoration.

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Reader Comments (99)

Welcome back sir, we missed your erudite contributions. Are you as pleased as yours truely and other realists with events in the usa?
Yes diesel gennies are very useful.

Nov 28, 2016 at 3:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterWaterside4

Could to see you back, Your Bishness.

I am sure that providing them with six Cummins diesel generators, and enough fuel to run them for five years would have proven more cost-effective, though. Ho hum.

Nov 28, 2016 at 4:02 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent


In Ta'u, electricity is now 100% renewable (solar) energy resulting in a significant decrease in American Samoa’s carbon footprint at a global level.

I doubt it even had a little toeprint at a tiny bit of the Pacific level.
Do they have electric outboard motors on their boats or does the ASG insist on sail or muscle power? Cars run on pedal power perhaps with people yelling yabba-dabba-do?
Does the Trump election have any effect in AS, and will it affect this move to greenery?
This immensely important news item raises so many vital questions.

Nov 28, 2016 at 4:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterACK

Welcome back!

From The Guardian article we learn that of the 15 local technicians who built the micro grid, 5 will have full time jobs maintaing it, to supply 600 residents with electricity at home, work and in school. The bad weather that slowed construction and regularly causes havoc on the island, should not be a problem, because the batteries can hold and supply for 3 days.

So why do they need 3 large Diesel Generators???

I do not know about the type of batteries they are using, but if they are capable of supplying for 3 days, does that include the nights aswell? Traditional lead acid (12/24 volt car/truck) type batteries are damaged very quickly the more they are run down, between charging. Are these generators going to be run every night, or only if there is a chance of no sunshine the next day?

I am guesstimating that each 274KW Genset would use 2-3 gallons (10-15 litres) per hour.

Nov 28, 2016 at 4:51 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

... the batteries can hold and supply for 3 days.

So why do they need 3 large Diesel Generators???

Presumably, they only need them at night.

Nov 28, 2016 at 5:09 PM | Registered Commentersteve ta

Shame they can't solar power the planes that fly the tourists in and out which is the bulk of their economy

But they always got Money Laundering and Off Shore Tax Haven Status to fall back on.

Nov 28, 2016 at 5:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamspid

gc - according to

....the island’s use of more than 109,500 gallons of diesel per year, as well as the expense of shipping that fuel in. (That's the amount of fuel used by one generator; the island has three of these in case one breaks, but most of the time only one is in use.)

Something wrong somewhere, even if only with gc's estimate of 2-3 gallons (US gallons presumably) per hour.

3 * 365 * 24 = 26280 gallons, about one quarter of the 109,500 gallons/year stated.

In one year, a 275 kW generator can produce 24 * 365 * 275 = 2,409,000 kWh.

According to 109,500 US galls of diesel equate to 4,456,650 kWh.

So they seem to be consuming about twice the amount of diesel that you'd expect one 275 kW generator to consume in a year, even if it were run flat out 24 hr/day.

Perhaps "most of the time only one is in use" means that two or more are in use but for less than 50% of the time?


Needs an auditor to look more closely...

Nov 28, 2016 at 5:32 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Will be interesting to see the actual performance metrics for all this over the next few years, to see how it all went.
I'm also curious as to whether Tesla/Solarcity provided any financial conditions or terms or equipment for what they provided and contributed.
If there's going to be a value judgment made for what they presume they've got, against what they gave up, all the information and performance have to be gathered for assessment.
With the picture of all the boats moored in that one harbour (if that is on that island) its clear that lots of diesel still needs to be imported in any event.

Nov 28, 2016 at 5:46 PM | Unregistered Commentermikegeo

Martin A, thank you!

Each of those diesels is a large truck engine. 2-3 gallons per hour per engine is a ball park guesstimate, based on medium+ loading. The maths somewhere is not right.

If the previous calculations were based on the quantity of diesel consumed on the island, how are they going to power all the cars/trucks/tractors/boats in the future?

Nov 28, 2016 at 5:51 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Jamspit. I believe their economy is based on the export of tuna and american football players.

Nov 28, 2016 at 5:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterACK


Solar Powered Fishing Boats.

Now getting really Off Topic into hyper naval gazing .
The new "West World" reboot on Sky Atlantic.

Andrew Briebart famously said Politics is just down the road from Culture.
Just as the 1970s Yul Brinner Richard Benjamin original oncoming 1970s White heat Technology angst predicted the rise of Ronald Reagan and MTV.
So will the new 21st Century Identity era politic 3D printed Gunslingers and Hookers "West World" reboot predict the rise Trump Briebart Brexit Steve Bannen Milo and the Alt Right.

Now we got a Reality TV Star Climate Skeptic into the White House but unfortunatley not a preferred candidate.
A field full of Solar Panels just as a field full of Wheat, Barley ,Medical Marijuana or tourist Condos wont make much difference either.


Nov 28, 2016 at 7:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamspid

@golf charlie, Nov 28, 2016 at 4:51 PM

I do not know about the type of batteries they are using, but if they are capable of supplying for 3 days, does that include the nights as well? Traditional lead acid (12/24 volt car/truck) type batteries are damaged very quickly the more they are run down, between charging

Lithium-ion battery packs, same as in Tesla cars.

Nov 28, 2016 at 8:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterPcar


Which said Lithium batteries behave like batteries, but cost more.

Martin A:

The answer is that most of the fuel is being used by boats and vehicles - around 70% by my back of envelope figures.
The solar panels at full capacity would fill up the batteries in a bit over 4 hours (at theoretical capacity) which is a ludicrous mismatch. At a more realistic 11.8% it would take 36 hours, another mismatch. For what it is worth I think the panels will struggle to supply 1,000,000kWh per annum if they can achieve 17.7% efficiency.

On the claimed figures it seems that PR waffle has been substituted for reliable figures. The actual savings will be far less than claimed and the cost is carefully not mentioned. There is at least $US 6 million in Tesla battery packs for a start.
I note that the "investment" also included 480V switchgear.

Nov 28, 2016 at 9:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterGraeme No.3

Those calculations for fuel requirements fail to take into account the amount of fuel which will be reallocated by elders entitled to avail themselves of the community's resources.

Nov 28, 2016 at 9:26 PM | Unregistered Commentergnome

Willis Eschenbach commented on that at Watts Up ...

<I>Wiring up a remote pacific island … well, it is one place that such an installation MIGHT make economic sense, due to the high cost of shipping fuel.

Some research reveals the following:</I>

As usual, Willis is clear and thoughtful.

Nov 28, 2016 at 10:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpeed

From Willis' comment at WUWT:

>> ...and there is no social tradition of maintenance of machinery.

So perfectly pitched.

Statehood brought Hawaii the tradition of Camaros on cinderblocks in the front yard.

Nov 28, 2016 at 10:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterJEM

Speed, JEM, Martin A + others

The link to Willis Eschenbach at WUWT is interesting and informative. I think wind and solar do make sense, especially if in remote locations, provided there is a reliable means of producing electricity.

Presumably Musk does not sell or market wind turbines, just solar and expensive batteries. I have not visited or worked in that part of the world, but Willis notes that the environment is not good for electronics, and that local labour may not adapt to maintaining such equipment.

They will have managed to survive with internal combustion engines, powering a wide variety of machinery for at least one generation, and will immediately revert to technology they can fix/repair/bodge if the new fangled stuff can't be fixed. I do not mean this in a derogatory manner, it is what most trouble shooting d-i-y'ers would do, and I have done, in the UK and abroad.

Nov 28, 2016 at 11:50 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Thank you, JEM, and interesting to see my utterly wild guess, above, to be right – total cost of the solar installation: $6.8 million; cost of 6 gennies (let me guess at $50,000 each): 300,000; annual cost of fuel (as stated): 400,000. Total cost of my suggestion – $2.5 million. A saving of over $4 million; what else could the islanders have benefitted from for $4 million?

Nov 28, 2016 at 11:56 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Martin A, my maths was wrong, but it gets worse.

Nov 28, 2016 at 11:56 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

100,000 (US) gallons of diesel a year for a population of 600 means about 7 kWh/capita per day, with a specific (diesel) fuel consumption of 200 g/kWh (assuming olde tech).

Will the subsidy of $400,000 for just 100,000 gallons a year now stop? Keep in mind that the on-road price for diesel fuel in the contiguous US States is under $3/gallon, which includes about 20% in taxes. Note that consumers pay around $100/month for electrical power with say 200 households (3 person/household assumed), about US$0.16/kWh. Or, reversing the calculation around $2.50/gallon of diesel. i.e. they're probably paying for the price of the (off-road) diesel itself, "plus change".

There's a lot of money going somewhere. Consider the small volume involved: effectively about one 1000-litre intermediate bulk container (IBC) per day. If the fuel is delivered in IBC, the delivery of each is costing US taxpayers $1000.

Nov 29, 2016 at 1:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterBernd Felsche

Martin A & Bernd Felsche + anyone

Having admitted my maths error, how much is Musk making out of supplying a load of Chinese (?) solar panels, with (Chinese made?) batteries, that need to be backed up by (US?) diesel engined generators?

Besides the 5 local maintenance engineers (1 man permanently on duty 24/7, plus 1 man 7am-7pm?) they are going to need a lot of weed killer to prevent the jungle encroaching on those solar panels.

At 5 employees per 600 population to maintain the electrical supply, assuming 4 to a household, plus schools, places of employment, the scheme does seem a bit expensive.

For caravans, yachts, canal boats etc a "big battery" for storing 12 volts and use when the engine is off might be 100+ amp/hour, lead acid, cost £100, and last 3-5 years. A boat/caravan probably has 2-6. It will NOT be heating air or water or cooking food, so just lights, small power, tv, computers etc. They will weigh upto 25kg, which is probably the upper limit for ease of handling.

If you allowed 1 battery per person at home, and one per person at school/work, that is 1,200 batteries @ £100=£120,000 for no frills lead acid 12 volt batteries, that in the UK are available in Halfords, yacht chandlers etc over the counter.

Mr Musk is very clever at earning US Taxpayer funded subsidies, and is very rich. I wonder if Republicans will appreciate his genius.

Nov 29, 2016 at 3:40 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Coconut oil could fuel the generators, but extracting enough would deplete the palms. As for the generators?

Nov 29, 2016 at 7:41 AM | Registered Commenterperry

Have we incorporated costs of transport and installation (including constructing new grid or connections to existing), and especially of land.

If other Pacific islands are typical, fuel costs may be multiples of those in mainland USA. The system was probably installed to reduce these costs as much as possible, rather than for any green appetite.

Nov 29, 2016 at 8:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterACK

Diesel fumes spread across the bleached reef
Spreading PAHs far and wide,
killing parrots of both sea and air.

Gleaming sheets of sky
Interred myriads of soil creatures
Locking them in perpetual darkness.

And for what?
A South Sea paradise!

Nov 29, 2016 at 12:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterACK

'Ditching fossil fuels to run entirely on solar power..'....?

Er - so what are those stonking great gennys for, and what are they going to run on..?

Nov 29, 2016 at 1:03 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

Perhaps the generators are there to stop the solar panels blowing away in the first typhoon.

Nov 29, 2016 at 2:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterBloke down the pub

Bloke down the pub, quite a lot of power would have been required to fix the solar panels to bedrock, or create concrete mounting blocks of sufficient size and weight to stop them becoming kites.

Nov 29, 2016 at 2:45 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

"I do not know about the type of batteries they are using, but if they are capable of supplying for 3 days, does that include the nights aswell?"

Because you cannot charge batteries if you are using the generators that charge them to supply demand.

This seems to get overlooked.

If poor weather/night stops solar power meeting demand and batteries are needed, there can be no solar power to replenish the batteries. The batteries then run down, but even if solar power becomes available most, if not all of it, goes to meet demand. So how to replenish the batteries? Fossil fuel generators.

The same applies with wind power.

This is the reason why solar and wind can never be a viable alternative to fossil fuel, nuclear or hydro - it is unreliable, non-controllable with variable output. It can only ever be icing on the cake.

Nov 29, 2016 at 2:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

We dipped our asphalt shovels in diesel periodically; it was lubricative.

Nov 29, 2016 at 5:24 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

kim, it is the taxes from fossil fuels that are paying Musk his millions in subsidies to promote the inefficiency of Unreliable power, that has to be backed up with reliable diesel.

I think Trump has got this figured out. I think he may also have worked out who the winners and losers are. Global Warming Experts keep saying how stupid Trump is, so I don't expect they will think that Trump will work out out how to fix the problems fabricated by Global Warming Experts.

Nov 29, 2016 at 5:52 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

What ever happened to wave power?

It always seemed like the most reliable of renewable resources.

And it would be most suitable for an island state.

Nov 29, 2016 at 7:55 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

I hope that Musk's shareholders only invested money they can afford to loose...

SolarCity's stock fell 60% this year as it struggled to boost demand for commercial solar panel installations and continued to burn through cash. Its cash pile fell to just $146 million in June, down from $421 million a year earlier.

To make matters worse, Tesla is also known for bleeding money. It is currently investing billions to build a battery factory and produce the Model 3, its first mainstream electric car.

Perhaps with the SolarCity acquisition in mind, Musk urged Tesla employees to slash costs and "deliver every car we possibly can" in a desperate push for profitability.

Worse than its lousy earnings and cash flow, Tesla is grossly overvalued compared to its peers. Tesla's market cap is more than $30 billion, compared to Fiat Chrysler at around $10 billion and Ferrari at around $8 billion. Being valued at 3x more than FCAU — an established and profitable company — looks especially absurd when considering FCAU produces annual sales of over $130 billion, while Tesla produces revenue of only $4 billion.

Furthermore, Tesla's market cap is nearly two-thirds of General Motors' market cap. This is despite the fact that General Motors has a history of selling 10 million cars at a profit each year and Tesla sold less than 100,000 cars last year at a loss. They would have to sell 6.6 million cars this year to justify its current valuation. With less than 400,000 cars on pre-order that doesn't appear likely anytime soon.

Robert Murray, an outspoken Donald Trump supporter and the CEO of the Murray Energy Corporation – America’s largest coalmining company – went after Musk on CNBC’s Squawk Box on Monday and called Tesla “a fraud”.

Musk tweets that the real fraud is ‘denial of climate science’

Oh dear.

Nov 29, 2016 at 8:59 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

What ever happened to wave power?It always seemed like the most reliable of renewable resources.
And it would be most suitable for an island state.

Nov 29, 2016 at 7:55 M Courtney

Coral islands rely on the action of waves to push sand shore-ward and so maintain their material balance. If wave barrages reduced the amount of energy impacting the island it could result in the whole place disappearing below sea level.

Nov 29, 2016 at 9:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterBloke down the pub

Bloke down the pub, so put them parallel to the island.
Not all waves aim at the atoll.

Nov 29, 2016 at 9:30 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

… quite a lot of power would have been required to fix the solar panels to bedrock, or create concrete mounting blocks of sufficient size and weight to stop them becoming kites.
GC: are you sure that is a problem that will have dawned on these people? If they truly believe that solar cell power is the solution for these islanders, then the odds are that they will not be able to conceive that there could be anything that could blow a solar panel away – I mean, they are big, heavy items, ain’t they?

Nov 29, 2016 at 9:48 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

American Samoa is a best case for going solar.
1) it isn't that hot in the daytime due to ocean breezes--thus no AC needed.
2) no winter, so no heating bills, and not cold at night
3) no industry, so no demand there
4) lots of sun
5) low income of residents (not that developed)
I would also bet the solar stuff was paid for by some outside do-gooder, not by the locals.

Nov 29, 2016 at 9:51 PM | Unregistered Commentercc

Radical Rodent, I think they have designed solar panels with cost and weight minimised, so you can build a plane out of them, capable of flying around the world in a year and a half, with one man on board.

Without the weight of one man, many solar panels are very keen to have a crack at that round the world record, and they have to be physically restrained, by being screwed down on roofs. Unfortunately, solar panel designers and installers often forget that roofs are supposed to keep rain out of buildings, and when solar panels try to flap like wings in a fresh breeze, they tend to cause holes, that let water in.

Some solar panels do actually generate electricity, even in the UK, and when rain comes through the roof, and mixes with the electricity, it can cause fizzy pops, bangs, and colourful sparks called fire. This is not a good target for Firewoman Samantha to squirt her hose full of even more water, something Fireman Sam may have worked out for himself, having heard about dogs electrocuted whilst cocking their legs on a lamp post.

A badly installed solar panel could damage a house, it could increase the chance of roof leaks, it could increase the risk of fire, and it could decrease the chances that any firefighter will want to exinguish the fire. It is tempting to conclude that the best place for solar panels is buried underground, but remote islands away from modern civilisation are safer for a trial.

Wind and solar are good as back ups or top ups in remote locations but not for reliable power.

Nov 29, 2016 at 11:54 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

The last 2 posts under my pseudonym is not my creation.
It's a imposter
I have been away for a week backpacking in the South Kerry hills ( amazing weather)
My only electronic outlet was listening to flipping cricket at 6 in the morning on Lw rather then the news and stuff.
Appreciate if the blog author stops all posts under the Dork of Cork aliases.

Nov 30, 2016 at 6:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterThe Dork of Cork

What imbecile is ruining their cred here by posing as the Dork?

Dork might you have been cloned while asleep or could, while you have been traipsing the Hills, one of the green little people have invaded your sensorium (by mistake?) and caused you to write sense.

Oh poof, those posts seem to have irritated our host. (Belated congratulations on your return your Grace).

Nov 30, 2016 at 8:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterACK

M Courtney/ Bloke down the pub

The main problem with deploying effective wave power is the sheer difficulty of engineering machinery that will survive extended periods in the sea. On a fine sunny day looking out at idyllic sea views it's easy to undersestimate the power of the ocean and the constant pumelling that such equipment takes, never mind the corrosive environment. They keep trying though for exactly that reason - there is a lot of power to be had. Maybe one day...

Nov 30, 2016 at 10:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Ronan

No one has ever been able to explain to me why Lithium Ion batteries are so revered. My experience of them suggests pros are light weight, fast charging, high instantaneous currents. Cons: rubbish energy capacity (so bad that ratings for L-ion vehicle batteries are quoted in Watt Hours rather than the Amp Hours for lead/acid, presumably to disguise the fact that their energy capacity size for size is about 20%). They're about 3 times the price and optimistically, have a lifespan of about 20,000 cycles; 20000 cycles doesn't take long because of the poor capacity. I can't see how they're any more eco-friendly than lead/acid. I can see a case for them when weight is an issue - racing vehicles and phones, but not grid storage.
Can anyone explain the rationale?

Nov 30, 2016 at 11:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterGavin

<M Courtney/ Bloke down the pub>
<Nov 30, 2016 at 10:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Ronan>
Exactly. Tidal should be even better - predictable for millenia - but unfortunately the energy that is turning the turbines is also wet sand-blasting them 24 hours a day. Life expectancy would be measured in weeks.

Nov 30, 2016 at 11:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterGavin

M Courtney & Bloke down the pub,

I can only agree with Joe Ronan. Energy-from-wave machines do work, until bigger waves smash them up.

I don't know what the longest continuous trial of a wave energy contraption is. Have any lasted more than a year?

Nov 30, 2016 at 11:20 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Gavin. Not a problem at La Rance, which has been running for half a century.

Tidal not very effective in middle of Pacific.
Wonder if American Samoa considered geothermal?

Nov 30, 2016 at 11:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterACK

Martin A - interesting discourse on Musk/Tesla....

I'v always thought it all looks just a tad 'too good to be true...'

Might we see the banks pull the plug any time soon..?

Nov 30, 2016 at 12:55 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

No one has ever been able to explain to me why Lithium Ion batteries are so revered.
Nov 30, 2016 at 11:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterGavin

An analysis that reckons Li ion has about half the total cost of lead-acid.

Plus less than half the weight, smaller volume.

Nov 30, 2016 at 1:47 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

I've been randomly posing as Dork for months now, using my patented Dork Idiotic Comment Generator, and nobody has noticed! Just saying, yee.

Nov 30, 2016 at 2:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterShindig

It doesn't end ....

"A similar project will be commissioned on nearby Ofu island next month".

[Nothing more at this site]

Nov 30, 2016 at 2:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterACK

Shindig. What a total waste of time. All your effort with your DICG*, nobody noticed, and with the sweep of his cassock our host will obliterate all vestiges to the ether (which doesn't really exist).

* if you had replaced "Generator" with "Kruncher" people might have taken more notice.

Nov 30, 2016 at 4:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterACK

Golf Charlie -

There are certainly long term wave energy devices in operation. I once visited the shoreline wave energy project on Islay (the original 75kW device) which was replaced by a 500kW unit that is I think still running after 10 years. There is a good description of this latter project here:

and a good overview of the oscillating water column technology here

The advantage of this approach is that all the mechanical and electrical gear is kept clear of the water. It does lead to siting issues though.

Nov 30, 2016 at 7:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Ronan

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