Solar Energy for Marlon Brando’s Dream Island

Wiebke Krügerby Wiebke Krüger (guest post), , 0 Comments
Solar Energy For The Island of Marlon Brando's Dreams

“No more fossil fuels on this island.” These were the words of Hollywood legend Marlon Brando. Now, the luxury private resort on the island of Tetiaroa in the South Pacific has been receiving a near around-the-clock supply of solar power. Here, guests can enjoy luxury-level comfort and convenience while having the opportunity to experience how humans and nature can co-exist in complete harmony. And who knows, maybe some guests will be inspired to lead a more sustainable life themselves. Not even Hollywood could do a better job.

The Brando Google maps

The Brando: part of the Frensh Polynesian atoll Tetiaroa in the South Pacific

Glittering turquoise lagoons with colorful coral reefs and waves that roll gently onto white sandy beaches. Home to the green sea turtle, with very important nesting sites on the beaches, and more than 160 species of fish, a resting place for humpback whales, a playground for rays, spinner dolphins and blacktip sharks. Welcome to Tetiaroa in the South Pacific, an idyllic atoll that resembles nothing less than heaven on earth, located 42 kilometers north of Tahiti in the middle of the South Seas.

This is where Hollywood legend Marlon Brando fell in love—not once, but twice—while filming “Mutiny on the Bounty”: First, with the main actress, Tarita; and second, with the pristine atoll of Tetiaroa itself. In 1967, he purchased Tetiaroa and passionately devoted himself to preserving and protecting this natural paradise. But that was not all, for he wanted to create an ecological showcase project, a unique location in harmony with nature, a destination for tourists and scientific researchers alike —and a model for the rest of the world to follow. In the 1990s, he called for an end to the use of fossil fuels on the island.

In 1999, he found a partner in Richard Bailey—Chief Executive Officer of Pacific Beachcomber—who shared his ideas on sustainability. In 2014, Bailey opened the CO2-neutral and exclusive vacation resort “The Brando,” a popular relaxation destination for celebrity guests, on Tetiaroa. The air conditioning on the atoll is provided by this unique technology of SWAC Sea Water Air Conditioning, an idea given by Marlon Brando to Richard Bailey that became reality first in 2006 at the Thalasso Resort and Spa in Bora Bora and then in 2014 at the Brando. This technology enables to save up to 80% of the electricity used for the air conditioning of a resort.


In harmony: untouched nature and innovative technology

However, guests at The Brando enjoy more than just the idyllic seclusion, with many taking the opportunity to visit the eco station of the Tetiaroa Society. This station was built by The Brando similar as Brando’s vision of a “university of the seas,”, where the Brando guests can  meet leading scientists from around the world and actively participate in their research. The Tetiaroa Society aims to sustainably combine education, nature conservation and creative sciences. Brando’s son Teihotu is involved with Tetiaroa Society and lives the majority of his time on the island. His mission statement? “Save Tetiaroa, save the planet.” And there’s no denying that the regenerative energy supply and the island’s lifestyle, which exists in harmony with the natural environment on Tetiaroa, is hugely inspirational to many guests seeking to lead more sustainable lives on their return home.  A dedicated “Green Tour “ is offered to the guest during their stay in order to show and explain them all the energy sources, as well as waste and water treatment, the botanical garden, bee hives….“Protecting and conserving this unique natural environment just as Marlon Brando would have wanted are extremely important to me,” said Bailey. “And for our guests, The Brando serves as both an inspiration and a model for helping them lead more sustainable lives when they return home.”

Blackstart challenge: a stable electricity supply in just seconds

Power team for The Brando

International power team: Working together for the energy supply on The Brando.

“Right from the outset, we wanted to use solar energy here to make us as autonomous as possible,” said Bailey. His plan was to expand the existing PV system. He had heard of and was fascinated by the project we implemented on St. Eustatius, so the SMA Sunbelt team developed a customized battery energy-saving system (BESS) that could be seamlessly integrated into the existing infrastructure. We replaced the PV inverters with state-of-the-art technology, doubled the overall power to 1.4 MWp and added a battery-storage system, allowing surplus solar energy to be temporarily stored and used as an energy supply for the entire island. This might sound pretty straightforward, but we had to overcome a range of technical and logistical obstacles.

We had to comply with special requirements regarding the protection functions in accordance with French standards, and the system had to be integrated into the French generator control system. In terms of logistics, the resort’s geographical location meant that we were subject to a strict weight restriction of eight tons per component because the crane on the reef was unable to handle any heavier weights. Nonetheless, it still reliably handled all the challenges we threw at it.

The greatest challenge, however, was to simultaneously magnetize the large transformers on the utility grid and to start the utility grid from the battery system. We therefore developed the Blackstart function: Working in conjunction with the hybrid controller, the battery inverter creates a stable utility grid in just a few seconds. The Blackstart function is now a valuable, additional standard feature in the SMA products Sunny Central Storage 2200 and SMA Hybrid Controller, making a major contribution to grid stabilization even in large battery systems on the utility grid.

A tense moment: the Blackstart function in the field

Together with the local operator, we developed the necessary switching operations for an automated Blackstart procedure at low- and medium-voltage level and implemented them in the SMA systems and the customer’s SCADA. Of course, we had already simulated the Blackstart function several times in the test laboratory, where it had always worked perfectly. However, doing this for real was a really special moment. We had to perform the tests at night so as not to obstruct hotel operations during the day with simulated power outages. When everything went dark and then, shortly afterwards, the lights went back on thanks to the power supplied via our system, this was a spine-tingling moment. It’s always a beautiful sight to behold when all of our hard work as a team ultimately pays off in practice.

The generators, which can be  powered by palm oil, lie idle for more than 13 hours a day and start up automatically only when required. This saves 500,000 liters of fuel every year. Thanks to the batteries, guests can continue to enjoy uninterrupted power even when it’s cloudy or at night. In addition the Sea Water Air Conditioning system reduces  up to  90% of the power consumption for air conditioning.

Remote maintenance: professional support

We of course also support our customer during the operational phase with our remote maintenance service. The monitoring system runs fully automatically and reports any irregularities. This support is vital for the customer because maintenance work and failures occur much less frequently in PV systems than in more maintenance-intensive thermal generation systems, which in turn means that maintenance and repairs do not become routine jobs for the local operator. This is why our experts are on hand to provide fast and highly professional support as required—including software updates.

The goal: 100% solar power

Now, 60% of the electricity supply for The Brando comes from solar energy. Everything is running as it should be—and we even improved the quality of the utility grid on the island. The team once again did a stunning job, and our partnership with the customer is every bit as smooth as the system itself. Richard Bailey is so impressed with the new energy supply that he is investigating possibilities to make the energy supply for the island 100%-solar-energy-based. This would represent the perfect realization of Marlon Brando’s vision: “My mind is always soothed when I imagine myself sitting on my South Sea island at night. If I have my way, Tetiaroa will remain forever a place that reminds Tahitians of what they are and what they were centuries ago.”

Special features of the energy system:

  • Largest BEES in French Polynesia
  • Stable utility grid in just seconds thanks to the Blackstart function
  • Annual solar fraction of over 60%
  • 500,000 liters of fuel saved annually


System profile

  • System size: 1.4 MWp solar power, 2.6 MWh battery-storage system
  • SMA components: Sunny Central Storage 2200, SMA Hybrid Controller, 32 SMA Sunny Tripower, Remote Service
  • Fuel saving: 500,000 liters
  • Commissioning: December 2018
  • Operator: Energie de Tetiaroa, PACIFIC BEACHCOMBER SC CFP


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