Pact of Islands

 By Andrew Burger

Marking a historic milestone, newly installed renewable power generation capacity exceeded that of all others – coal, natural gas, nuclear and large-scale hydroelectric – last year, according to the latest annual report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). That wasn’t the only precedent-setting achievement. Globally, more financial capital was invested in renewable energy projects and R&D in emerging economies than in developed ones. European islands are at the forefront of this wave of change. Serving as renewable and distributed energy resource management (DERM) testbeds, they’re developing into leading local markets and renewable energy industry hubs in their own right. From the frame of reference of global climate warming, they’re serving as showcases for sustainable development and worldwide efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions…

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Serving as test beds and proving grounds, islands the world over have emerged as hubs for renewable energy, energy storage and smart grids systems development. Helping resolve pressing and intertwined socioeconomic and environmental issues, European Union (EU) islands are also developing into small, yet influential, renewable energy and cleantech markets in their own right.

From Denmark’s Faroe Islands and Scotland’s Western Isles to Portugal’s Azores, Spain’s Canary Islands and across the Mediterranean, European island communities are moving ahead with ambitious plans to phase out fossil fuels and phase in local, emissions-free renewable energy resources.

Samsø - Denmark's renewable energy island

From the North Atlantic to the Aegean

Island nations and communities stand to save billions of dollars annually alone by substituting diesel and other fossil fuel imports with readily available solar, wind and other renewable energy resources.

Energy, water, food, manufactured goods — the necessities and conveniences of modern life —are typically more expensive for island populations. They are also more vulnerable to the variety of pressures and threats posed by rapid climate warming, such as rising sea levels, and increases in both the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

Maximizing use of locally distributed renewable energy resources offers a means of meeting these challenges – cost effectively and in a way that can yield substantial social and economic benefits, proponents assert.

The World’s First Grid-Forming Distributed Renewable Energy Resource Systems

A leading-edge developer of integrated battery-based energy storage systems (BESS), Germany’s Younicos is a member of private-public consortia building the first of what the company calls grid-forming renewable energy systems. The first are located on Graciosa, one of Portugal’s Azores island chain, and another on the Greek island of Tilos.

The island-wide renewable microgrid under development on Graciosa is designed to achieve 100% renewable power penetration. By reducing the diesel fuel used for power generation by two-thirds, the island community stands to save millions of euros a year.

Similarly sparsely populated Tilos has enough in the way of sustainable solar and wind energy resources to export emissions-free electricity to other Greek islands (there are some 6,000 of them) and the mainland.

Younicos anticipates bringing Graciosa’s BESS online this year and Tilos’s in 2017. Using a proprietary systems design and analysis tool, Younicos has built models and performed simulations that have determined the optimal mix and grid-penetration of distributed renewable energy assets across some 100 islands worldwide.

Raising the Limit on Renewable Energy Penetration

Interconnecting distributed renewable power generation capacity to an adaptive BESS is the key to raising the practical limit of renewable energy grid-penetration from 15-30% as high as 60-80%, possibly even 90%, Younicos’ spokesman Philip Hiersemenzel explained.

¨This all sounds straightforward, and it is, at least technologically, but the fundamental challenge is maintaining grid stability given the intermittent, or variable, nature of solar and wind power generation,¨ he told Eniday.

“The problem with wind or solar, is intermittency — the very short-term fluctuations of supply caused by gusts of wind or cloud cover. That requires conventional generation to ramp up or down quickly, which in turn is why it has to be online at all times. It’s the longer-term weather trends that don’t pose as much of a problem. Bightfall – or prolonged periods of bad weather are well predictable – and we can turn on back-up generation for that.”

Maintaining what’s known as ¨must-run¨ generation capacity effectively limits renewable energy grid-penetration to 15-30%, however. Germany and other EU members have achieved higher penetration rates by ¨importing¨ grid stability via a pan-European grid.

Traditionally, utilities have relied on ¨a rotating map of fossil fuel or nuclear power plants to keep grids stable by continuously balancing out fluctuations in electricity supply and demand and maintaining the required frequency,¨ Hiersemenzel elaborated.

SEE MORE: Carribean solar power by Andrew Burger


Even at this early phase of evolution, Younicos and others are finding that distributed renewable energy grids are more economic, as well as more efficient and resilient, than conventional grid infrastructure — given they include sufficient adaptive BESS capacity, however.

Connected to larger grids, yet able to meet local power needs independently, these emissions-free power grids are not only cheaper and more effective than conventional options for physical islands, but for any communities that are isolated from power grids, he added.

Many doubted Younicos’s conclusions when the company first began publishing their research results around eight years ago. ¨Now we’re implementing grid-scale systems for the first time on Graciosa and Tilos…Once people see how well this works, I think we’ll see an enormous number of projects worldwide,¨ Hiersemenzel concluded.

about the author
Andrew Burger
Andrew Burger has been reporting on energy, technology, political economy, climate and the environment for a variety of online media properties for over five years.