Smart islands – UK's Isles of Scilly eye low-carbon solutions

Islands face specific challenges and must tailor their energy solutions to the particular needs of their own systems.
Published: Tue 23 May 2017

Generally, islands are of relatively small size and in isolated locations. Thus, their economic possibilities may be limited and there may be little or no interconnection with the mainland.

To date, most islands have relied mainly on imported fuels for their energy needs. However, with the reduction in prices of renewables and storage and the emergence of smart technologies such as microgrids, these now offer a viable alternative and an opportunity to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels.

Smart islands

As an example of an innovative island project, consider the newly launched Smart Islands initiative on the Isles of Scilly, which is effectively taking the smart city concept for delivery in an island setting.

According to the programme website, it is intended to sustainably and affordably tackle some of the main infrastructure and utility issues of Scilly, while also providing a model for other island communities to transition to a low carbon system.

Scilly is an archipelago including five inhabited islands with a population of around 2,200 located 45km off the southwestern tip of Great Britain.

Electricity supplies to the islands comprise a single 33kV undersea cable from the mainland supplemented by an island based diesel generating station. However, the absence of mains gas and high cost of the other fuels means that these islands have the highest per household electricity consumption in Britain, just above Shetland and Orkney.

From as far back as 2007, the Scilly Council has had the ambition for the islands to achieve zero net carbon balance through the installation of renewables and energy efficiency and other initiatives.

The Smart Islands initiative gives substance to these aims. Specific targets include 40% reduction in electricity bills, 40% of the isles’ energy demand met through renewable generation and 40% of vehicles being low carbon or electric by 2025.

In addition, a full programme of energy efficiency measures will be delivered by 2020 including actions to reduce the costly and energy intensive delivery of water and waste disposal. This will include enabling new methods of waste disposal that generate energy.

Among specific activities rooftop solar PV systems will be installed on 100 homes, a tenth of the island’s housing stock, and two 50kW solar gardens will be built which will deliver at least 448kW of renewable energy.

Energy management systems will be installed in the 100 solar homes and in 190 of the islands businesses. Ten of these will be smart homes piloting a variety of additional smart energy technologies including storage batteries and air source heat pumps.

The £10.8m project is co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund. Participants include Hitachi, which will develop an Internet of Things platform, home energy services company PassivSystems, which will supply home energy management systems, and battery company Moixa, which will supply systems to allow home batteries and electric vehicle batteries to be managed by the IoT platform.

“If Smart Islands was just about cheaper and greener energy it would be an exciting and worthwhile project, but it offers far more than that,” says Steve Sims, Vice-Chairman of the Scilly Council.

“The programme will remove some of the major infrastructure hurdles that are holding back the delivery of affordable housing. It will also considerably ease the islands' waste management problems.”

Europe’s islands

In a recent report Eurelectric reviews the energy challenges facing Europe’s islands along with a discussion of several case studies.

A key conclusion is that the unique features of islands require energy supply solutions to be tailored to the particular needs of the energy system on each specific island.

Ensuring secure and balanced supply of electricity on islands is significantly more burdensome and expensive than on the mainland. More analysis on the associated challenges and potential solutions to island communities is critically important.

Eurelectric states that European energy and climate policy should cater for the specificities of islands. A European framework for islands is needed along with an appropriate legal framework to improve the bankability and economic viability of islands’ energy projects.

Increased knowledge of the specific challenges and opportunities of islands could lead to the drafting of blueprints on options energy systems development. Island energy managers could benefit from support to raise awareness amongst their local island population of the challenges situation faced by their electricity system operators.

Eurelectric also notes that islands could serve as pilots and testbeds for technologies such as microgrids, decentralised energy systems and electric vehicles.

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