A remote tropical island has catapulted itself headlong into the future by ditching diesel and powering all homes and businesses with the scorching South Pacific sun. 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. Located 4,000 miles from the west coast of the United States, Ta’u has depended on over 100,000 gallons of diesel shipped in from the main island of Tutuila to survive, using it to power homes, government buildings and – crucially – water pumps. When bad weather or rough seas prevented the ferry docking, which was often, the island came to a virtual stand-still, leaving Ta’u’s 600 residents unable to work efficiently, go to school or leave their usually idyllic paradise. Utu Abe Malae, executive director of the American Samoa Power Authority, said Tutuila has subsidized Ta’u diesel shipments for decades to the tune of US$400,000 a year – and continually ran the risk of a serious environmental disaster if the delivery ships capsized during the notoriously treacherous journey.
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The speed and scale of China’s island-building spree have alarmed other countries with interests in the region. China announced in June that the creation of islands — moving sediment from the seafloor to a reef — would soon be completed. “The announcement marks a change in diplomatic tone, and indicates that China has reached its scheduled completion on several land reclamation projects and is now moving into the construction phase,” said Mira Rapp-Hooper, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington research group.
So far China has built port facilities, military buildings and an airstrip on the islands. The installations bolster China’s foothold in the Spratly Islands, a disputed scattering of reefs and islands in the South China Sea more than 500 miles from the Chinese mainland.