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How island nations can lead the renewable energy revolution



Small island nations face a truly existential threat in the face of climate change, but they also have the potential to lead the renewable energy revolution that could save them, writes Ryan Gilchrist, who leads business development with enterprise clients at UGE.


On Thursday, the third international UN Conference on Small Island Developing States, held on Samoa in the Central South Pacific, came to a close. The overarching theme for this year’s conference was “the sustainable development of small island developing states (SIDS) through genuine and durable partnerships“.

It connected people from all over the world to assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of renewable energy, and sought a renewed political commitment by focusing on pragmatic actions for further implementations. The conference also worked to identify new and emerging challenges and opportunities for the sustainable development of SIDS and a means of addressing them. 

At its conclusion, it was announced the conference forged nearly 300 partnerships between governments, businesses and civil society organisations, generating $1.9 billion (£1.1bn) to support SIDs’ sustainability efforts.

Around 600 million people live on islands around the world, and their population, agricultural land and infrastructure tend to be concentrated in coastal zones, where any rise in sea-level will have profound effects on their economies and living conditions. 

In addition, global climate change may damage coral reefs, altering the distribution of zones of upwelling and affecting both subsistence and commercial fisheries production.

Currently the vast majority of island nations must import fossil fuels for their energy demands. This is increasingly expensive for island nations, as prices of oil increase, and supply slowly diminishes. The financial impact of fossil fuels is compounded by the environmental risk of transporting oil on ships across stretches of ocean, making the continued use of fossil fuels an unattractive prospect. 

Conferences like this highlight the threats to island nations in the face of climate change, how they are vulnerable to its effects and how they are perfectly positioned to mitigate its potential impact.

However, not all is grim and dismal for the future of island nations, for they have geographically ideal conditions for almost all forms of renewable energy, allowing for a diversified renewable energy portfolio, which is much more reliable than single sourced energy of any kind.

Located in areas with an abundance of wind, sun, water, and biomass, while being smaller in size makes it much more feasible to implement renewable energy on a nationwide scale.

Best of all, these islands can serve as examples for the rest of the world to show how the idea of a future powered completely by renewable energy is not merely conceptual, but is indeed a very realistic option with applications very much in the present.

A few innovative ways that islands are leading on renewable energy:

Sicily, in the Mediterranean, had the world’s first solar farm. Built back in 1981, the farm is now being retrofitted with the latest concentrated solar panel technology. In 2014, Sicily now houses more than 8,000 solar facilities, and is home to over 30 wind farms. In western Sicily, Mazara Solar is a proposed 50 MW plant with an “innovative” tower technology to produce superheated steam while storing thermal energy as saturated steam. The plant is expected to generate about 534 GWh while being funded with up to €40 million. Renewables in Sicily are growing so much that even the mafia has gotten involved in the industry. The largest ever seizure of mafia holdings, in which €1.7 billion in assets were seized, included 9 wind farms and several solar power plants all tied to a mafia associate nicknamed “Lord of the Wind”. 

Luzon, the biggest island in the Philippines will complete a 33 MW wind farm this month. The wind farm faces the South China sea where wind spins over 20 turbines, supplying up to 40% of the nation’s energy needs. In addition to this, a  wind farm commissioned just a few hundred miles south on the same island in Mindoro Oriental, will have 24 turbines generating 2 MW of electricity each, for a total of 48 MW. This project should be completed by 2016. Hotels in the Philippines, such as the Anvaya Cove resort, are also using on-site renewable energy to conserve resources, boost the tourism industry, and showcase sustainability to their guests. 

In New Caledonia, UGE designed a microgrid solution for a telecom tower in a very remote location that now runs on a hybrid of wind and solar, allowing the tower to operate without the use of any fossil fuels. This greatly reduces both the time spent traveling to this remote location and the money spent on importing fossil fuels such as diesel. Île Ouen in New Caledonia telecom towers can only be accessed by helicopter, meaning that any trip for the South Pacific telecom company OPT is an ordeal and an added expense. Without roads or excess resources, finding a reliable and efficient power source for the towers became a must. During a recent storm that ravaged New Caledonia, all of the UGE/Self Energy Pacific towers maintained uptime, facilitating critical communication, which is needed more than ever during rough weather conditions. 

The Hawaiian islands in the Pacific currently rely on 90% imported oil for fuel, which is quite costly for the islands, while also polluting their pristine ecosystems. This is why Hawaii has set a target to have the islands powered 70% from renewable energy by 2030. Currently solar water heaters have been installed in some 80,000 homes and institutions throughout the state, while legislation is requiring every home to be retrofitted with these units to offset energy demand for heating water.

El Hierro Island in the Canary Islands now generates 100% of its energy from a mix of renewables to supply power needs for its approximately 12,000 residents.This helps the island nation save over 40,000 barrels of oil each year, which translates into 1.8 million euros per yearsaved by foregoing importation of fossil fuels. On top of this the island’s authorities have entered into an agreement with Nissan to replace all of El Hierro’s vehicles with electric cars in the next six years.           

Samsoe Island in the Baltic gets 100% of its energy from wind turbines located around the island, both on and offshore. Sixty per cent of the island’s heat comes from straw bales left over from local farm harvest, which gets converted into biomass heat production. Just one bale of straw is equal to about 200 liters of oil. Samsoe citizens have shares in the HAWTs, which produce 10% more energy than the island uses. The excess is sold back to mainland for profit for each of the shareholders.

While island nations may have the most to lose from the effects of climate change, they also have a unique opportunity to lead. These islands represent the future of renewable energy independence, and are showing the rest of the world that such a future is not only possible, but is already here.

Ryan Gilchrist leads business development with enterprise clients at UGE, a New York-based worldwide distributed renewable energy company. UGE has projects in more than 90 countries around the world, including islands such as the Turks and Caicos, the Philippines, and Hawaii.

Photo: Luigi Guarino via Flickr

Further reading:

Samoa UN climate conference generates $2bn in island-to-continent environmental partnerships

Pacific island leaders set to discuss climate change and sustainability

Pacific Islands Forum closes with climate change and sustainable tourism commitment

Pacific island Kiribati buys land in Fiji to escape climate change

Small island states threatened by rising sea levels call for sustainability


Responsible Energy Investments Could Solve Retirement Funding Crisis




Energy Investments
Shutterstock / By Sergey Nivens |

Retiring baby-boomers are facing a retirement cliff, at the same time as mother nature unleashes her fury with devastating storms tied to the impact of global warming. There could be a unique solution to the challenges associated with climate change – investments in clean energy from retirement funds.

Financial savings play a very important role in everyone’s life and one must start planning for it as soon as possible. It’s shocking how quickly seniors can burn through their nest egg – leaving many wondering, “How long your retirement savings will last?

Let’s take a closer look at how seniors can take baby steps on the path to retiring with dignity, while helping to clean up our environment.

Tip #1: Focus & Determination

Like in other work, it is very important to focus and be determined. If retirement is around the corner, then make sure to start putting some money away for retirement. No one can ever achieve anything without dedication and focus – whether it’s saving the planet, or saving for retirement.

Tip #2: Minimize Spending

One of the most important things that you need to do is to minimize your expenditures. Reducing consumption is good for the planet too!

Tip #3: Visualize Your Goal

You can achieve more if you have a clearly defined goal in life. This about how your money can be used to better the planet – imagine cleaner air, water and a healthier environment to leave to your grandchildren.

Investing in Clean Energy

One of the hottest and most popular industries for investment today is the energy market – the trading of energy commodities. Clean energy commodities are traded alongside dirty energy supplies. You might be surprised to learn that clean energy is becoming much more competitive.

With green biz becoming more popular, it is quickly becoming a powerful tool for diversified retirement investing.

The Future of Green Biz

As far as the future is concerned, energy businesses are going to continue getting bigger and better. There are many leading energy companies in the market that already have very high stock prices, yet people are continuing to investing in them.

Green initiatives are impacting every industry. Go Green campaigns are a PR staple of every modern brand. For the energy-sector in the US, solar energy investments are considered to be the most accessible form of clean energy investment. Though investing in any energy business comes with some risks, the demand for energy isn’t going anywhere.

In conclusion, if you want to start saving for your retirement, then clean energy stocks and commodity trading are some of the best options for wallets and the planet. Investing in clean energy products, like solar power, is a more long-term investment. It’s quite stable and comes with a significant profit margin. And it’s amazing for the planet!

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What Should We Make of The Clean Growth Strategy?



Clean Growth Strategy for green energy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By sdecoret |

It was hardly surprising the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS) was much anticipated by industry and environmentalists. After all, its publication was pushed back a couple of times. But with the document now in the public domain, and the Government having run a consultation on its content, what ultimately should we make of what’s perhaps one of the most important publications to come out of the Department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in the past 12 months?

The starting point, inevitably, is to decide what the document is and isn’t. It is, certainly, a lengthy and considered direction-setter – not just for the Government, but for business and industry, and indeed for consumers. While much of the content was favourably received in terms of highlighting ways to ensure clean growth, critics – not unjustifiably – suggested it was long on pages but short on detailed and finite policy commitments, accompanied by clear timeframes for action.

A Strategy, Instead of a Plan

But should we really be surprised? The answer, in all honesty, is probably not really. BEIS ministers had made no secret of the fact they would be publishing a ‘strategy’ as opposed to a ‘plan,’ and that gave every indication the CGS would set a direction of travel and be largely aspirational. The Government had consulted on its content, and will likely respond to the consultation during the course of 2018. And that’s when we might see more defined policy commitments and timeframes from action.

The second criticism one might level at the CGS is that indicated the use of ‘flexibilities’ to achieve targets set in the carbon budgets – essentially using past results to offset more recent failings to keep pace with emissions targets. Claire Perry has since appeared in front of the BEIS Select Committee and insisted she would be personally disappointed if the UK used flexibilities to fill the shortfall in meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, but this is difficult ground for the Government. The Committee on Climate Change was critical of the proposed use of efficiencies, which would somewhat undermine ministers’ good intentions and commitment to clean growth – particularly set against November’s Budget, in which the Chancellor maintained the current carbon price floor (potentially giving a reprieve to coal) and introduced tax changes favourable to North Sea oil producers.

A 12 Month Green Energy Initiative with Real Teeth

But, there is much to appreciate and commend about the CGS. It fits into a 12-month narrative for BEIS ministers, in which they have clearly shown a commitment to clean growth, improving energy efficiency and cutting carbon emissions. Those 12 months have seen the launch of the Industrial Strategy – firstly in Green Paper form, which led to the launch of the Faraday Challenge, and then a White Paper in which clean growth was considered a ‘grand challenge’ for government. Throughout these publications – and indeed again with the CGS – the Government has shown itself to be an advocate of smart systems and demand response, including the development of battery technology.

Electrical Storage Development at Center of Broader Green Energy Push

While the Faraday Challenge is primarily focused on the development of batteries to support the proliferation of electric vehicles (which will support cuts to carbon emissions), it will also drive down technology costs, supporting the deployment of small and utility-scale storage that will fully harness the capability of renewables. Solar and wind made record contributions to UK electricity generation in 2017, and the development of storage capacity will help both reduce consumer costs and support decarbonisation.

The other thing the CGS showed us it that the Government is happy to be a disrupter in the energy market. The headline from the publication was the plans for legislation to empower Ofgem to cap the costs of Standard Variable Tariffs. This had been an aspiration of ministers for months, and there’s little doubt that driving down costs for consumers will be a trend within BEIS policy throughout 2018.

But the Government also seems happy to support disruption in the renewables market, as evidenced by the commitment (in the CGS) to more than half a billion pounds of investment in Pot 2 of Contracts for Difference (CfDs) – where the focus will be on emerging rather than established technologies.

This inevitably prompted ire from some within the industry, particularly proponents of solar, which is making an increasing contribution to the UK’s energy mix. But, again, we shouldn’t really be surprised. Since the subsidy cuts of 2015, ministers have given no indication or cause to think there will be public money afforded to solar development. Including solar within the CfD auction would have been a seismic shift in policy. And while ministers’ insistence in subsidy-free solar as the way forward has been shown to be based on a single project, we should expect that as costs continue to be driven down and solar makes record contributions to electricity generation, investment will follow – and there will ultimately be more subsidy-free solar farms, albeit perhaps not in 2018.

Meanwhile, by promoting emerging technologies like remote island wind, the Government appears to be favouring diversification and that it has a range of resources available to meet consumer demand. Perhaps more prescient than the decision to exclude established renewables from the CfD auction is the subsequent confirmation in the budget that Pot 2 of CfDs will be the last commitment of public money to renewable energy before 2025.

In short, we should view the CGS as a step in the right direction, albeit one the Government should be elaborating on in its consultation response. Its publication, coupled with the advancement this year of the Industrial Strategy indicates ministers are committed to the clean growth agenda. The question is now how the aspirations set out in the CGS – including the development of demand response capacity for the grid, and improving the energy efficiency of commercial and residential premises – will be realised.

It’s a step in the right direction. But, inevitably, there’s much more work to do.

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