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SUSTAINABILITY| 14.07.2021

Islands and territories that point the way to 100 percent renewable energy

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It may sound idealistic, but achieving an energy supply that covers all our needs from 100 percent renewable sources is, without a doubt, one of the long-term objectives of our society. 

We must be aware of technical difficulties, both in terms of generating the energy and storing it, and of the need to guarantee that there are no interruptions in the supply to homes and companies.

For example, the European Commission has set out a road map focusing on the year 2050 as its target for achieving climate neutrality in Europe. The strategy, which was created in 2018, is committed to investing in realistic technological solutions. Seven strategic areas of action were defined and one of them is the deployment of renewable energies.

At the moment, we are still extremely dependent on fossil fuels and the conversion of our vehicle fleet to hybrid and electric models also has a long way to go. A fully renewable energy generation model may not be achieved for many decades, but every step taken in that direction is positive. And if we pause to wonder whether reaching the 100 percent renewables ideal will ever be possible, we can take a look at small areas of our planet, in some cases islands, that have achieved it.

 

Tasmania joins the cleanest energy club

One of the latest territories that we have heard of that has managed to supply itself with 100 percent clean energy is Tasmania. This is quite significant, and although it is indeed an island, we are still talking about one of the states of Australia and the 26th biggest island in the world, with a population of more than half a million inhabitants.

It is thanks to Tasmania’s energy minister that the country has become energy self-sufficient, due to the renewable energy provided by various projects launched to produce electric power and wind energy. Tasmania therefore joins another Australian territory, the ACT of Canberra (the federal district where the Australian capital is located), as the only two territories in the country with their own jurisdiction that only use renewable energy. The achievement has been applauded by the local WWF and Greenpeace organizations, so you could say that support has been unanimous.

Other “100 percent renewable” islands and territories

To prove that we are not only going to talk about islands, we will begin with one of the most prominent cases of success in achieving energy self-sufficiency through renewable sources: Costa Rica.

We are talking about a Central American country with 5 million inhabitants that has reached the desired goal of producing 100 percent renewable energy. Perhaps it doesn’t produce 100 percent every single day of the year; let’s not forget we are talking about energy sources that depend on elements such as the weather. In the absence of the data for 2020, 2019 serves as an example, where 100 percent of the energy used in the country was from renewable sources for 300 days.

We are not talking about a one-day endeavor, but rather a sustained effort that has paid off over the past six years. The main source, by far, is hydroelectric energy, which covers more than 70 percent of the energy needs of Costa Ricans, followed at some distance by geothermal energy and wind energy.

Now, let’s turn to Europe to talk about Tilos, which even back in 2017 was said to be the first island capable of being able to subsist solely on renewable energy (although these labels must all be taken with a pinch of salt). The project that was approved in May of that year consisted of a windmill and a large photovoltaic panel.

Although it is true that its population is small, with between 500 and 800 inhabitants, depending on the source of information you use, Tilos has (under normal conditions, although not for the moment) a continuous flow of visitors, and once depended on the supply of the neighboring island of Kos. The project went ahead and since January 2019 Tilos has been, for all intents and purposes, energy independent thanks to its renewable energy.

Still in Europe, let’s talk about a country that has almost managed to also achieve the goal of a 100 percent supply of clean and sustainable energy. We are talking about Iceland. This is a country that has a resource that others lack: geothermal energy, which is used, for example, to directly heat nine out of ten homes.

The first steps toward this goal in Iceland were not taken for ecological reasons, but rather to avoid fluctuating oil prices throughout various crises, says Hrund Logadóttir, Director of the Icelandic School of Energy at the University of Reykjavik. She also states that in addition to geothermal energy, the share of hydroelectric energy is very important and that, if necessary, wind energy—which is currently hardly used at all—could have enormous potential.

Let’s talk about the Iberian Peninsula: Spain and Portugal

Perhaps looking at the progress made by their neighbor Portugal may spur Spaniards on. We are talking about a country that , according to information from a year ago, produces two-thirds of its energy from renewable sources, mainly thanks to hydroelectric and wind energy, while photovoltaic energy plays a much smaller role for now.

As an example of the progress made in Portugal, we can look at what has been achieved on the island of Graciosa, in the Azores archipelago, which has been powered solely by renewable energy for years thanks to the construction of an infrastructure that combines electricity generation using solar energy and wind power with lithium ion battery storage. Construction began in 2016 and was completed in 2018. Subsequently, other projects have been launched on other islands in the archipelago.

Let’s talk about Spain. We can obtain data about the contribution of renewable energy in 2020 directly from the Red Eléctrica website: it stands at 44 percent, which is hopeful but at the same time suggests that there is a lot of work still to be done.

For years the Canary Island of El Hierro has aimed to become a 100 percent renewable territory This island has relied on a hydroelectric plant that produces wind power for use by the population. Any excess power is used to pump water from one reservoir to another located on a higher level. Later, in times of low wind, a waterfall is generated that provides hydroelectric energy. Diesel engines cover the demand when wind power is not enough.

In 2019, this system meant that 54 percent of the energy consumed on the island was from a clean and sustainable source; energy was 100 percent renewable for 1,905 hours, the best month being July, where a level of 97 percent was reached. To find data for 2020, you have to go to the website of the hydroelectric plant management company, which tells us that in the last year fewer hours were covered by renewable energy than in the previous two years. We have to keep working toward our goal.

On another Canary island, La Graciosa (not to be confused with the Portuguese island), is relying on photovoltaic energy to be 100 percent renewable. In this case we are talking about a much smaller island with a population of just over 700 inhabitants.

The future in this field is exciting. Within the European Union, as already mentioned, we have a joint work horizon with a view to achieving a non-polluting continent by 2050. Technology, institutional support and the ambitions of private companies will all have to pull in the same direction, and we will surely see collaborations between countries such as the joint promotion of offshore wind farms between Germany and Denmark. Watch this space.