Senior Editor

The Inertia

Elon Musk, the visionary behind Tesla, just started harnessing the power of the sun on Kauai. For the first time, a utility company contracted a massive system that stores the sun’s energy during the day and uses it at night. SolarCity, a solar energy company out of San Mateo, California, is building a 13 MW solar array for Kauai, and Tesla was picked to supply a 52 MWh utility-scale energy storage system.

It’s no secret that fossil fuels aren’t the way of the future. Despite the fact that the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, has zero interest in protecting the environment, the times they are a’changin’. It’s a slow process–a transition of energy dependence on a scale this big needs to be–and although Trump digs coal and ExxonMobil CEO/Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is giving spit-covered handjobs to the President while fondling the tits of the oil industry, the future is coming, and it’s not coming out of the ground. Instead, it’s coming in the form of renewables like solar, wind, and tides. The technology is there and the momentum is building, even with the heavy anchors of the fossil fuel industry trying desperately to keep it mired in crude oil.

Elon Musk is often on the forefront of some of that technology. Take, for example, the tiny Pacific island of Ta‘ū. Sitting about 4000 miles off the western coast of the United States, six hundred people call the island in American Samoa home, and thanks to Tesla and SolarCity, they’re now powered almost entirely by the sun. A similar project is taking place on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where 56% of energy is produced with imported fossil fuels. Somewhere around 10% comes from hydroelectric, and just over 20% comes from the sun. The problem with wind and solar is storing the energy they create. Solar, of course, needs the sun, and peak solar power generation generally occurs when it’s needed the least. But Musk and Tesla are changing that with an enormous solar farm and energy storage facility.

Using a battery installation that uses a 13-megawatt solar farm and an astonishing 52 megawatt-hour battery system, Tesla and the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) are predicting a reduction in fossil fuel consumption of nearly 2 million gallons per year.

It’s an odd setup–KIUC didn’t just buy the solar panels and battery system from Tesla. Nope, it’s more of a long-term business deal: KIUC is buying the electricity from Tesla under a 20-year contract.

With any luck, this will just be the beginning. Tesla hopes to “work with energy providers around the world seeking to overcome barriers in the way of building a sustainable, renewable energy grid of their own” in the coming years.


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