Island Renewable Hope
The Rocky Mountain Institute has produced a paper on renewable energy microgrids to highlight how island economies can benefit from renewable energy systems. A microgrid can be defined as small electricity grid system which supplies an island and/or remote communities. The paper is titled “Renewable Microgrids: Profiles From Islands And Remote Communities Across The Globe”. The report highlights some good examples of islands that are using renewable energy as well as opportunities for clean power in remote communities and island communities. The Rocky Mountain Institute describes itself as being a practitioner rather than a theorist; they go on – “we do solutions…[,] we do transformation, not incrementalism.”
The report highlights that many island communities are highly reliant on oil for their well being, in fact they are “disproportionately dependent on oil”. Typically oil is used to generate electricity and as such there are risks tied to global market fluctuations and also getting the oil transported to the island in the first place. The prices paid per unit of electricity tends to be expensive and local electrical grid systems don’t have the benefits of being connected to different electricity generation supplies. This latter point is a typical feature of “mainland” electrical grids and as a result the islands are paying much more for the same unit of energy. Typically this may be three times the cost of mainland electrical units according to the report which cites the average in most Caribbean nations.
There has been a shift for remote communities and islands from fossil fuel based systems to systems that are based upon renewable energy systems. Benefits of the transition to renewable power systems include operational cost savings, reliable and stable power, long term energy price stability as well as reducing reliance upon oil. There seem to be many benefits. The renewable microgrids utilise a diverse set of resources that includes wind, solar, biodiesel, hydro, and energy storage. Importantly for the communities that have taken steps have been driven by a number of factors:
1) Costs (typically these were rising and difficult to plan for)
2) Environmental Considerations (such as climate change)
3) Abundant Local Resources (such as wind to generate electricity)
There are a number of challenges that communities have to overcome and these include the following:
1) Grid Stability – renewable technologies can present challenges due to variable generation outputs and this must be overcome.
2) Remote Location – can present problems such as physically transporting technology or components but also lack of skilled labour.
3) Administrative and Bureaucratic Requirements – there was a need to align bureaucratically imposed requirements with the overall energy transition timeline.
The report highlights a number of lessons learnt from various projects and these are summarised below:
1) Transitioning to renewables can reduce costs – in almost all cases fewer fossil fuels were used. Sometimes government subsidies could be reduced allowing money to be spent elsewhere. It is good to understand the technologies to be used and the potential pitfalls before embarking towards the renewable microgrids.
2) Adding renewables enhances microgrid system resilience and stability. Microgrids with a diverse resource mix are typically less prone to failure than those that have one resource. New modern components for the microgrid needed for renewables allow a more resilient energy supply in general. Relying less on imported oil increases local community resilience. It also allows money to remain in the local economy.
3) Energy efficiency is an important component of the renewable microgrid transition. Energy efficient measures such as lighting, insulation and more energy efficient appliances are always more cost effective than a generation option. As a result an energy efficiency plan should also be considered for the transition plans for islands.
4) Energy storage is a key component of largely renewable microgrids. Installation of battery storage, flywheels or hydro pumped energy storage can support renewables especially where they contribute more than 20% of the power supply.
Some examples are shown from a diverse range of places from high latitude to low latitude and in a number of climates. There are some islands that are now 100% reliant upon renewable energy sources. Examples include Tokelau, New Zealand, Floreana – Galapagos, Ecuador and Ultsira, Norway. There are a number of different schemes from The Isle Of Eigg, Scotland which is mainly a community based scheme or the private island of Necker Island which is a privately owned Caribbean island.
The Rocky Mountain Institute has provided a helpful paper or casebook. It will benefit other communities wishing to transition away from fossil fuels and make their islands or remote place more resilient in the long term. They have highlighted a number of practical cases where the communities have embraced a renewable future in some shape or form. The casebook provides useful examples and learning from around the world and also demonstrates some of the benefits of moving from fossil fuels.
We need more sustainable solutions in the world and this is a route to some of those solutions. Forget the theories now get on and practice the solution. Some of the islands highlighted here had the vision to move to a twenty first century energy solution.
Bunker, Kaitlyn, Kate Hawley, and Jesse Morris. Renewable Microgrids: Profiles from Islands and Remote Communities Across the Globe. Rocky Mountain Institute, November 2015.