Research station using renewable energy with former student’s help

David Sellers

A research station on Palmyra Atoll, a remote, 680-acre South Pacific wildlife refuge 1,000 miles south of Hawaii, is operating primarily on wind and solar power thanks to efforts by David Sellers ‘02, a former environmental design student at Texas A&M.

Sellers is the acting Palmyra director for the Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental organization, which co-owns and manages the atoll and its research station with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The station hosts scientists studying the atoll’s spectacular coral reef and its tropical ecosystems.

Sellers played a key role in the station’s conversion to renewable energy sources from fossil fuels by modifying a prototype wind turbine design to ensure the safety of the more than one million seabirds that nest on the atoll. He then oversaw the turbine’s fabrication and construction in Hawaii before it was shipped in three sections to Palmyra.

Installation of the turbine and 385 new solar panels at the station have lowered its dependence on fossil fuels by 95 percent, said Mark Fox, acting executive director of Palmyra and Hawaii programs operated by the Nature Conservancy.

“With a renewable energy system in place, we can now focus on what we do best — conservation and scientific research to inform that conservation,” said Fox.

Before the installation of the new systems, buying and shipping diesel fuel needed to operate the research station consumed more than half of the conservancy’s operating budget for Palmyra and produced 349 metric tons of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, each year.

“We have basically locked in 20 years of low-cost energy and made the station economically and environmentally sustainable,” said Sellers. “Our carbon footprint has been reduced dramatically and we have mitigated the environmental risk of having to transport and store all that fuel.”

posted August 31, 2015