True Confessions of a Transatlantic Traveler – Canary Islands Edition

A few days ago, I shared with our readers some thoughts on a recent visit to Barcelona, which I consider to be “Paris with a view of the ocean”. The reason I was in Barcelona was to board a Royal Caribbean cruise ship that was repositioning from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean for the winter season.

For those unfamiliar with cruises, these relocation excursions are often much cheaper than a regular cruise, mainly because there aren’t as many ports of call en route. For this reason, they are rarely complete. In this case, I was on the Jewel of the Seas, a medium-sized cruise ship that seats 2,600 passengers, but there were only 1,100 on board. It was like having the boat all to myself. Sweet!

Tenerife coastline. Photo by Steve Hanley for Clean Technica. All rights reserved.

The original itinerary called for stops at Madeira Island and the Azores, but both were mired in cloud and rain, so the decision was made to go to the Canary Islands off the African coast. I knew nothing of our two ports of call, Tenerife and Gran Canaria, but in my mind I imagined them to be bucolic outposts in the ocean with a few natives living in huts beside a pristine beach.

I had to think of Papeeti or Tahiti. Both islands are actually bustling cosmopolitan communities with miles of modern highways, bridges, tunnels, buses, taxis and cars – lots and lots of cars. There are shopping malls, car dealerships, sports grounds, hotels and even a miniature version of the Sydney Opera House. There are also houses and buildings as far as the eye can see.

Tenerife has an area of ​​just over 2,000 square kilometers and a population of just under one million. One of my fellow travelers on the cruise was from Germany and he informed me that Tenerife is to Europeans what Florida is to Americans and Canadians – a wintry Mecca with warm breezes and lots of Sun. In fact, nearly 5 million people visit Tenerife each year, making tourism the island’s number one industry.

Nearby Gran Canaria has an area of ​​1560 square kilometers and has a population of 850,000. Like Tenerife, it feels very much like a part of Spain, with a modern vibe that belies the fact that it’s in the middle of the ocean. Both islands are dominated by ancient volcanoes which provide spectacular views of the islands and the ocean beyond.

An ode to the diesel engine

Photo by Steve Hanley for Clean Technica. All rights reserved.

Like many islands in the world, Tenerife and Gran Canaria exist in their modern form thanks to the diesel engine. Dr. Rudolf Diesel’s miracle machines generate virtually all the electricity used on the two islands and also power the desalination plants needed for drinking water and irrigation. The irony of fueling such havens with diesel fuel cannot be overlooked. In Tenerife there is a lone wind turbine in the ocean and no solar panels.

Admittedly, Spain is beginning to push renewable energy more than in recent years, but the Canary Islands are far behind the curve. There is no good reason for them to still be slaves to diesel power. They have access to abundant renewable energy at more than competitive prices. Plus, they could take advantage of the price stability that comes with renewables instead of riding the fossil fuel roller coaster every time some crazy Russian decides to invade a neighboring country.

Perhaps the only electric car in Tenerife. Photo by Steve Hanley for Clean Technica. All rights reserved.

There is also the possibility of geothermal energy. These volcanoes may be quiescent, but there’s plenty of heat just below the surface to power desalination plants and power plants. Imagine if these islands were free of fossil fuels. This would be the ideal situation for their inhabitants. So why didn’t it happen?

Inertia, most likely. Although the Canary Islands are part of Spain, they do not receive the same level of attention from the national government as cities on the mainland. Tourists come and bring their money with them and that’s all anyone really cares about. The old ways have kept the islands going until now.

There is also a brain drain affecting the islands. Young residents find better education and employment opportunities on the mainland, which means they leave, never to return. Meanwhile, hotels and boutiques continue to welcome European snowbirds and do the best they can out of season. It is a condition of stasis rather than growth.

The perfect place for renewable energy

The view from the volcano of Gran Canaria. Photo by Steve Hanley for Clean Technica. All rights reserved.

The Canary Islands enjoy abundant sunshine and trade winds. The cost of diesel is high. The cost of renewable energy is low. Moreover, the price of diesel undergoes convulsions every time Vladimir Putin or MBS sneeze. There’s no real reason why they aren’t powered entirely by renewable energy, except that they are islands far from the seat of government, a problem that plagues virtually every island in the world. Out of sight, out of mind, seems to be the most logical explanation.

Which is really unfortunate. Tenerife and Gran Canaria are wonderful places to visit and live. While island life is celebrated in art and song – Jimmy Buffett has built his entire career on stories about him “floating like stratus above the Caribbean” – in truth, they’re generally well outside the economic mainstream. Puerto Rico is a prime example of the damage caused by the benign neglect of islands that is common around the world.

The Canary Islands to take away

Nestled inside Gran Canaria is the charming town of Teror. Photo by Steve Hanley for Clean Technica. All rights reserved.

I didn’t expect to visit the Canary Islands when leaving Barcelona, ​​but I’m glad I did. If I had a reason to go back, I’d grab it in a heartbeat. These are not the cultural backwaters I expected. They are bustling metropolises with endearing old residential neighborhoods nestled in the crenellated landscape created by volcanoes long ago. What they need is to be dragged into the 21st century.

They should point the way to our low carbon future rather than being relics of our fossil fuel past. For this to happen, the Spanish government needs to put in place the right policy and financial opportunities, and the sooner the better.

Cathedral of Gran Canaria inspired by Gaudi. Photo by Steve Hanley for Clean Technica. All rights reserved.




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