Commissioned by the Ecuadorean government to resolve a complex environmental issue confronting the Galapagos Islands, one that threatened the biological sanctuary’s UNESCO designation as a world heritage site, Siemens has developed a hybrid electricity generation system using renewable fuels that could serve as a model for clean power in decades to come.
The issue revolved around replacing the highly pollutive electric power system on Isabela Island, the largest of the national park’s 21 islands and the launch pad for tens of thousands of global tourists who each year take boat tours of the archipelago and its wondrous wildlife. Until October, the island and its hotels, restaurants and 2,500 permanent residents were served by a diesel-powered plant that emitted high levels of smog and noise.
UNESCO was worried not only about the pollution but the risks incurred by the delivery of the plant’s diesel fuel by ship from the mainland 600 miles away. In recent years, two big fuel loads were spilled during the transfer from ship to power plant, fouling the island’s coastline and threatening the fragile ecosystem. The United Nations cultural agency put Ecuador on notice that a cleaner electric power solution had to be found or the Galapagos could lose its coveted “world patrimony” distinction.
Ecuador, with the key support from the German government, issued an invitation to global engineering companies to submit bids to design a reliable, environmentally clean system using renewable fuels, but the technical and logistical challenges of building and maintaining such as system on a remote island proved formidable. In the end, Siemens was the only bidder. Its proposal: A “hybrid” power plant that combined solar power generation with a biofuels power component that used a little known nut as its power source.