First published in Cleantech magazine 2012, Issue 3. Copyright Cleantech Investor Ltd.
In the past, the issue of energy security has been particularly acute on islands - especially those which are distant from an electricity grid. Remote islands have much in common with remote inland locations in this respect. A multitude of projects around the world are focusing on renewable energy options for both islands and ‘energy islands’ (the latter can be found from Africa to the Australian outback and from the Amazon to the Arctic circle).A key factor for islands - and ‘energy islands’ is the high cost of importing fossil fuel. The most appropriate renewable energy alternatives will depend upon the location of the island - or energy island. A water surrounded island has a natural advantage in this respect in the form of its coast line. Thus, as the cost of off shore renewable energy falls, some islands look set to become early adopters of off shore renewables (off shore wind, wave and tidal power). For islands which are suffi ciently close to a grid, there may be potential to become net energy exporters: the disadvantages in terms of location in the fossil fuel era may become an advantage to some in the ‘cleantech era’!
The UK’s major committment to off shore wind energy might be viewed , in some respects, as an island experiment. After all, the UK is located on the British Isles - mostly on a very large island with a sophisticated grid - but islands all the same. It’s neighbour on the also large island of Ireland is currently constrained in terms of its ability to add additional renewable energy capacity to its grid - a factor which many much smaller islands are also facing.
Energy storage and smart grids can play an important role. However, interconnection between the large - and small - islands which comprise the British Isles - and their non island neighbours on the continent of Europe - will be essential if the investment by the UK in off shore wind is to be transformed into the generation of energy on a large scale. Irish wind energy entrepreneur, Eddie O’Connor (founder of Mainstream RP and Airtricity) identified the interconnection challenge some time ago - and advocates a ‘supergrid’ as the solution (see Friends of the Supergrid).
The ‘All Islands Approach’ to energy generation has adopted the vision of a supergrid as a means of linking Ireland, mainland UK and the many other islands - including the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands - to mainland Europe. The success of this approach will be essential for off shore windpower to become successful.
Many islands set themselves up as test beds for renewable energy products and services. Perhaps the biggest island renewable energy test bed of all is the UK: mainland UK is an island with a challenge to meet its energy needs. It plans to test bed off shore renewable energy technology - both off shore wind and marine energy (wave and tidal power). It also, like many islands, hopes to secure economic spin off benefi ts by establishing an industry related to off shore renewables. The results will take at least a decade to become clear.
Anne McIvor, May 2012
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