Tourists arriving at Reina Sofia south airport in Tenerife are usually blissfully unaware of the renewable energy strides being made just a few miles east of their landing strip. Most are lured by the big tourist resorts to the west of the airport, such as Los Cristianos and Playa de las Americas. Even when they venture north up the motorway to the capital, Santa Cruz, the sight of imposing white wind turbines marching down to the sea, usually just produces a frantic clicking of cameras and the inevitable jokes about Teletubbies popping out from behind the windmills.
But the I.T:E:R centre on the Granadilla industrial estate is a long way from childs play, the Institute of Technology and Renewable Energy, is at the cutting edge of research and development into harnessing the power of nature and conserving energy that is produced, for the good of all-
As well as the 38 wind turbines, in three separate groups, the 400,000 square metre park has a vast array of solar panels, a water park with small scale water driven power producers, a wind tunnel for aerodynamic testing, and 25 bioclimatic houses, partially sunk into the ground for insulation.
A dedicated team of 70 staff are constantly interpreting data to get the best results from the test equipment on site. Donâ€™t get the idea that this a secret installation hiding itâ€™s findings from the world. All information gathered here is displayed in several languages on the website www.iter.es and visitors are welcome for organised group tours or just curious individuals.
Tenerife hasnâ€™t just leapt on the bandwagon, the government set up the park in 1990, thanks in no small part to the foresight of the Tenerife President, Ricardo Melchior. The politician studied engineering in Spain and Germany and spent 25 years helping business to develop renewable energy. This dedication has been recognised with a honourary doctorate of science from Ireland university and a national order of merit from the French government.
Education is the key, and that is why parties of school children are regular visitors to ITER. As well as a full tour of the site, they can watch a film in the on site cinema, with more background and inspiring ideas to fire their imaginations.
The wind turbines are a strong visual statement of the aims of ITER and they have been steadily evolving to become more efficient in themselves. They now have a built in weather station at the top so they can respond to changes in the weather conditions and wind direction. Newer models have become less noisy, many opponents of the turbines in the UK have complained about their impact on the landscape, but the ITER turbines emit just a dull whirr if you are very close, and their stark white image has endeared them to many who live in, or visit Tenerife.
Solar power is the most obvious way to tap into Tenerifeâ€™s climate but it is proving a slow process to get new buildings to fit solar panels. On a small scale, many rural bus stops on the nearby motorway, have their lighting powered by a small solar panel mounted on a lamp post, well itâ€™s a start. ITER estimate that anyone shelling out to install solar panels in Tenerife, can expect to recoup their outlay in 3 to 5 years, through savings in their power bills.
There is so much more scope for ITER to look into, their park is down near a wild and exposed part of the south east coast, and wave power could be the next big challenge to grasp. If all this wasnâ€™t enough to be getting on with, ITER is also a monitoring station for seismic activity on the island. Mount Teide hasnâ€™t erupted since 1909 but small tremors continue in, under and around all 7 volcanic Canary Islands. The level of expertise at ITER is known world wide and they often have field groups out in volcanic hotspots around the globe, adding to their huge database.
The sun, sea and wind all go towards making Tenerife such a popular holiday island but it is good to know that as well as blue seas, golden sand and blue skies, there is also a strong green thread running through the island.