El Hierro – The Sustainable Island

Photographs by Giulio Paletta

The smallest of the larger islands in the Canary Islands archipelago is El Hierro.  It measures less than 50 kilometers from one end to the other and is the most western of the islands in the Canaries.  El Hierro’s natural beauty is incredibly diverse, offering visitors the opportunity to hike its protected interior woodlands and relax in the warm waters of its unspoiled lagoons and coves along the island’s rugged coastline.  El Hierro is the most volcanic of the Canaries archipelago, featuring more than 500 open craters and another 300 volcanos with craters covered by lava flows.

A powerful ecological mindset infuses El Hierro’s soul, which was awarded the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve designation in 2000. Beginning in 1996 the island began working steadily to become the world’s first energy-independent island that is powered only by renewable energy sources.  The Gorona del Viento El Hierro consortium was formed in 1996. It included islanders, faculty and students from the Canary Islands Institute of Technology, consultants from the Spanish utility company Endesa, and representatives of the Spanish government.  All participants were focused on shifting the island’s energy source from diesel-powered generators to a wind and water turbine farm that would use no fossil fuels and emit no CO2.  The consortium directed their collective scientific know-how, moral will, and spiritual commitment toward meeting their energy needs with nature, not from nature.

El Hierro is well on its way to producing all of its energy from renewable sources.   In 2019, 54% of the island’s electricity came from wind and water thanks to the state-of-the-art Gorona del Viento hydroelectric power plant.  Gorona del Viento is a closed-loop wind and water system with five windmills and two water reservoirs. Harnessing the Atlantic Ocean’s near-constant winds, the windmills capacity provides islanders with daily electricity while also powering three water desalination plants. The plant stores water when surplus power is generated and reuses it If the wind stops or demand for electricity is high. 

The results of El Hierro’s transformation towards becoming a sustainable island are very encouraging.  For calendar year 2020, the island covered 1,293 hours of power use by renewable sources only and saved 5,922 tons of diesel fuel that was not used for generating energy.  The resulting benefit to our planet was 19,544 tons of greenhouse gases (mainly CO2) not being emitted into the atmosphere.

All photos by Giulio Paletta / UIG.  To license these photos above and more from this story, or inquire about additional coverage of El Hierro from Giulio Paletta, please contact UIG.

To learn more El Hierro and its march towards a 100% renewable energy future, please visit https://www.goronadelviento.es/en/







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