Remote U.S. Research Center Converts to 95% Renewable Energy

Sunday, July 05, 2015
SheerWind generator (photo: Cindy Coker, Nature Conservancy)

Those operating a research station at remote Palmyra Atoll have found that where there’s a will, there’s a way to use renewable energy.


Researchers on the atoll, which has been owned since 2000 by the Nature Conservancy, previously had to bring in diesel to fuel a generator to provide power, according to Ari Phillips of ClimateProgress. Including transportation costs—Palmyra is about 1,000 miles from Hawaii—the diesel ended up costing $11 to $13 a gallon. Now about 95% of the island’s energy needs are met via wind and solar energy.


According to the Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium, the atoll’s remote location makes it “an exceptional and unique location for a wide range of research pertaining to biodiversity, conservation, natural history, ecosystem restoration and management, marine ecosystem dynamics, biogeochemistry, climate dynamics, and atmospheric processes.”


“We have basically locked in 20 years of low-cost energy and made the station economically and environmentally sustainable,” David Sellers, the Nature Conservancy’s acting Palmyra director, said in a statement. “Our carbon footprint has been reduced dramatically. And we have mitigated the environmental risk of having to transport and store all that fuel.”


One hurdle was that traditional wind turbines pose a threat to birds, which would be incompatible with Palmyra’s status as a nature preserve. The conservancy turned to a Minnesota company that produces a horizontal device, shaped something like an 80-foot hourglass, that speeds up wind via the venturi effect. The device can generate power even at low wind speeds.

As a backup, the island still has a generator but it’s now fueled with biodiesel from recycled vegetable oil.


The systems will become part of a power grid including batteries that will eventually make the island’s energy sources approach 100% renewable.


A Maui-based company, CDF Engineering, donated construction labor, according to The Maui News. The experience may prove valuable, however, as Hawaiian legislators have proposed moving to a 100% renewable energy portfolio for that state.


Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Pacific Island Chain Gets Renewable Energy Makeover Including Sideways-Hourglass Wind Turbine (by Ari Phillips, ClimateProgress)

Palmyra Atoll Will Achieve 100% Renewable Energy Through Microgrid Project This Year (by Duane Shimogawa, Pacific Business News)

$1.2 Million Renewable Energy Project Expected to Cut Fossil Fuel Use by 95% (Nature Conservancy) (pdf)

Maui Engineer Moves Mountains to Complete Palmyra Atoll Energy Project (Maui News)


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