Clean energy for islands

European islands embark on clean energy transition

Twenty-six European islands are participating in a clean energy development initiative that could inspire others to decarbonise.
Published: Fri 29 Mar 2019

Islands face some specific challenges in decarbonising their energy systems and economies but also opportunities. They are often highly dependent on imported fossil fuels which are consequently costly, but they also have abundant wind and solar resources and can take advantage of the falling prices of renewable and storage technologies and others such as microgrids with or without a mainland interconnection.

Within the European Union there are more than 2,200 inhabited islands and many, such as Gotland (Sweden) and Tilos (Greece), have started deploying renewables and smart technologies. However, so far there has been no concerted approach. While individually they will make little difference, collectively their contribution to meeting the EU’s climate targets is key and to support them to decarbonise, a clean energy transition initiative has been launched through the Clean Energy for Islands Secretariat.

Twenty-six islands are participating with the aim to develop a blueprint that others can follow. According to a statement, these islands were selected to cover a broad variety of geographic and contextual conditions and their potential for establishing a high quality transition process that can inspire others.

“Islands are becoming more and more visible on the European agenda,” commented Croatian MEP Tonino Picula at the launch of the initiative. “The support for 26 islands throughout the Union is an important step in making island communities torchbearers in the clean energy transition.”

Island transition plans

In the first phase of the initiative, six of the islands – Aran Islands (Ireland) Cres-Lošinj (Croatia), Sifnos (Greece), Culatra (Portugal), Salina (Italy) and La Palma (Spain) – will develop and publish their clean energy transition agendas by mid-2019.

The other 20 islands will follow by mid-2020. These are Hvar, Brač and Korčula (Croatia), Kökar (Finland), Marie-Galante and New Caledonia (France), Crete and Samos (Greece), Cape Clear (Ireland), Favignana and Pantelleria (Italy), Azores (Portugal), Ibiza, Mallorca, Menorca and Illa de Arousa (Spain), Gotland and Öland (Sweden) and Orkney and a group of off-grid Scottish islands (UK).

The Clean Energy for EU Islands was launched in 2017 as part of the EU’s Clean Energy package. The Secretariat is tasked to assist islands with their clean energy transition involving all stakeholders including citizens, municipalities, local businesses, universities and schools as well as relevant parties from the mainland.

Island pilots

The six islands involved in the first phase have similarities and differences.

The Aran Islands are remote and sparsely populated but face a considerable increase in numbers with tourism in the summer months. The islands are connected to the mainland through a subsea cable. In 2016, a fault in the cable resulted in a power outage on two of the islands lasting for four days and affecting nearly 400 residents, indicating the negatives of such a dependency. In 2012, the Aran Islands Energy Cooperative was formed, which has participated in several Horizon 2020 and other collaborative projects and is working to develop a 2.7MW wind power plant. Planning, grid connection and feed-in tariffs are some of the issues they face in achieving this goal.  

Cres, the largest island in the Adriatic, and Lošinj also have their energy demand met through subsea connections to the mainland grid. However, with the local population and visitors increasing, it has become a challenge for the demand to be met and some first steps have been taken to harness the considerable renewable potential. For example, all the lighthouses have installed solar PV panels. Further PV systems with a total power of 80kW have been installed on the local school, two private houses and one company, all of which feed their electricity back into the grid. A transition towards clean energy is envisaged to reduce the energy consumption and related costs and improve the reliability of the grid. Businesses see clean energy as a means to acquiring a competitive advantage and attracting ‘premium tourism’.

The main challenge facing Ilha da Culatra is its location in a national park and the need to follow strict rules for its development. Aware of the clean energy opportunities, the local community – primarily fishermen – have initiated a partnership with the University of Algarve to design and implement a roadmap to convert Culatra into the first Portuguese clean island community. The main focus areas are the production of renewable energy to become energy independent and finding efficient ways to manage the island’s waste and produce water for self-consumption.

La Palma’s renewable energy potential, previously largely disregarded, was given a kickstart in 2014 with a move by a citizen group to develop a manifesto and vision, which was bought into by the local government and island municipalities. A scenic island known for its beautiful nature, the objective is to use as little land as possible for power generation and prioritise rooftops and dams to install PV, particularly for self-consumption, and to study the potential of geothermal resources to generate baseload power and stabilise the energy system. The focus of the transition plan includes energy efficiency and a coordinated effort to reduce consumption in the municipalities and the Cabildo is under way.

Salina’s challenge is its high carbon emissions resulting from the use of fossil fuels for almost three quarters of its energy use and for public and private transport. Since 2013, initiatives have been taken to promote ecotourism and reduce pollution and environmental degradation, and the plan is to implement energy efficiency and energy saving measures particularly in public lighting systems and the heating and cooling of public buildings. The municipalities further aim to produce renewable energy locally and to switch their public transport to electric minibuses powered by solar PV. The charging stations also would be available for electric vehicles on the island.

Sifnos likewise has had to have all its fuel shipped in, with government subsidies provided to keep electricity costs affordable. In 2015 the Sifnos Island Cooperative was formed by a group of concerned citizens and since than has been the main driver of the energy transition on the island, working closely with the municipality. Early in 2019, the national power company installed two wind turbines of a total capacity of 1.26MW. In an effort to make Sifnos self-sufficient and powered by 100% renewable energy, the cooperative has proposed a plan for an 8MW wind and hydro hybrid power plant, on which a decision is pending.

Among other actions to support these islands, the Secretariat is putting in place an engagement platform for stakeholders to connect and share experiences.

With thousands of islands across the world, the findings should have wider benefit beyond Europe.