One of the best ways to measure the successful application of renewable energy are on those islands which are not connected to any other electrical grid.
Getting mainland grid power to islands can be an expensive proposition, making it impossible for many islands to receive electricity from the mainland. In the past, islands survived (or subsisted) on expensive diesel power units and obscene quantities of diesel fuel, in order to provide electricity for island residents. Rarely was any kind of renewable energy employed except for some Pacific islands that burned relatively small quantities of coconut oil or palm oil in their diesel generator.
However, islands now have the choice between clean, renewable electricity generation and diesel generator power. Solar power and wind power are the two main ways to have renewable energy on islands, but biomass and in some places, geothermal can provide residents with reliable electrical power.
Renewable Energy Powers At Least Three Populated Islands
At least three populated islands exist in the world that can legitimately be called ‘100% powered by renewable energy’ and more are soon to follow, as islands can now significantly benefit from renewable energy.
Samsø Island, Denmark. A 100% Wind Powered Island
Samsø Island, Denmark is a 100% wind-powered island whose 4100 residents receive all of their electricity from 21 wind turbines and are able to sell their considerable surplus electricity to the rest of the country via an undersea cable system.
Note, Samsø does not import electricity from the mainland grid, rather, they export Samsø Island’s renewable energy to the mainland.
In less than ten years, Samsø went from producing 11 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person per year — one of the highest carbon emissions per capita in Europe — to just 4.4 tonnes (the U.S. is at 17.6), and has proven that running on 100 percent renewable electricity is possible.
The island now heats 60 percent of its homes with three district heating plants running on straw, and one which runs on a combination of wood chips and solar panels. People outside of the heating plants’ reach have replaced or supplemented their oil burner with solar panels, ground-source heat pumps, or wood pellet boilers.
Eleven onshore wind turbines provide 11 megawatts of power, enough to power the entire electrical load of the island (29,000 MWh per year). And 10 offshore wind turbines produce 23 megawatts, enough to compensate for the carbon dioxide emissions generated by the island’s transport sector.
This was all accomplished within eight years, two years ahead of schedule. — Rocky Mountain Institute
Tokelau, South Pacific is an island nation made up of three tiny atolls which has been powered by 100% solar power since October 2012.
Previous to that, the Pacific nation was powered by diesel generators which frequently broke down and cost $800,000 per year just for fuel. That is quite a burden for a nation whose population amounts to a grand total of 1500 citizens.
Tokelauans only had electricity 15 to 18 hours per day. They now have three solar photovoltaic systems, one on each atoll. The 4,032 solar panels (with a capacity of around one megawatt), 392 inverters, and 1,344 batteries provide 150 percent of their current electricity demand, allowing the Tokelauans to eventually expand their electricity use.
In overcast weather, the generators run on local coconut oil, providing power while recharging the battery bank. The only fossil fuels used in Tokelau now are for the island nation’s three cars.
New Zealand advanced $7 million to Tokelau to install the PV systems. But with the amount of money saved on fuel imports — the system will pay for itself in a relatively short time period (nine years with simple payback). — CleanTechnica.com
Iceland has produced 100% of its electrical power from renewables since 1980. The country’s hydroelectric dams provide 74 percent of its electricity — geothermal power produces the remaining 26 percent. Some wind turbines are now being installed to meet anticipated future electrical demand.
The aluminum industry was attracted to Iceland to take advantage of the low renewable energy electricity prices on the island nation, which provides an economic boost to Iceland generally, and employment for some Icelanders.
Despite a land area of 100,000 km², only 300,000 people inhabit the island, two-thirds of those in the capital Reykjavik. Yet, Iceland shows what can be done when a nation puts its mind to the task of eliminating fossil fuels.
Until the extensive development of the island’s hydro and geothermal resources, the country was dependent upon coal and oil for providing transportation, fueling its fishing fleet, and heating its homes.
The latter is not something to take lightly in a nation just south of the Arctic Circle. Iceland’s older residents can remember a time when coal smoke, not steam from the island’s famed [volcanic] fumaroles, shrouded the capital.
Iceland is a leader in geothermal development and exports its technical expertise worldwide. The country, along with the Philippines and El Salvador, is among countries with the highest penetration of geothermal energy in electricity generation worldwide.
On a per capita basis, Iceland is an order of magnitude ahead of any other nation in installed geothermal generating capacity. — RenewEconomy.com.au
Perhaps moreso than anywhere else, island residents can reap the benefits of renewable energy. The high cost of shipping fossil fuels to islands, not to mention the high cost of the fossil product itself, can make the transition to renewables an economic and environmental benefit for island residents.
Other 100-percent-renewable-powered islands include Floreana in the Galapagos (population: 100) and El Hierro in the Canary Islands (population: 10,000+).
Islands with 100-percent-renewable-energy goals include: Cape Verde, Tuvalu, Gotland (Sweden), Eigg Island, Scotland, and all 15 of the Cook Islands.
By switching to renewable energy, island nations reduce their reliance on imported fuels, keep money in the local economy, provide their residents with reliable power, and lower their carbon emissions. They can also serve as “test beds” for adoption of new technologies and models of what can happen on a larger scale.
And island nations are helping us learn what needs to be done. — Laurie Guevara-Stone.