The annual large-scale UN climate conference is to be held under the presidency of the Fiji Islands at the headquarters of the United Nation’s Climate Secretariat in Bonn in November 2017. The Fiji Islands’ leadership means not only, for the first time ever, a Pacific state, but also one of the regions most severely affected by the consequences of climate change, chairing the World Climate Conference COP23.
Like many other South Sea islands, the Fiji archipelago is drastically threatened by climate change. The islands’ highly sensitive ecological system is under threat from rising sea levels, changing precipitation patterns and storm floods. Not only are popular vacation destinations thus being lost on the islands, the water also endangers large parts of the living space of the more than 800,000 inhabitants of the island group.
Energy supplies up to now: dirty, complex, expensive
In addition, South Sea islands are now having, in view of the limited scope for action by their populations and local industry, to find new ways of securing access to energy. Island states are to a large extent dependent on imported fossil fuels to meet their needs for energy for the generation of electricity. The principal energy sources, diesel fuel and coal, are delivered by sea in tankers. This is not only a relatively “dirty” form of energy supply, it is also complicated and expensive. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), energy supplies to such island states absorb around 5 to 20 per cent of their economic product, and are therefore a great burden on such islands’ budgets.
High renewables potential in South Seas
Such South Sea islands have enormous amounts of sunshine as a resource, but energy self-sufficiency nonetheless remains difficult; such islands have, by their nature, too little of another important resource: space. And what there is, is highly contested. Tourism, with its needs for attractive natural landscapes, competes with agricultural utilisation and also with potential energy utilisation of the land. Island states are nonetheless consciously investing in a future with renewable energy. Such small “island developing countries” have resources which mean that they could meet their energy needs 100 per cent from renewable energy sources. Political, technical and financial barriers must be surmounted, in order that the high potentials do not remain unexploited, however.
Best Practice: 100 per cent renewables on El Hierro
The first small island to provide supplies 100 per cent from renewable sources is the Canary Island of El Hierro. Five wind-power installations on the 270 square kilometre island now generate electricity for the around 10,500 inhabitants and the annual 60,000 tourists. A pumped-storage power plant with a water reservoir in a volcano crater ensures that the power flows on this smallest and most westerly island of the Canaries even when the wind temporarily stops blowing. Renewable energy sources replace a diesel-powered generating plant which was previously responsible for supplying the island with electricity, at annual costs of 1.8 million euros, at the last count. In addition, 6,000 tonnes of diesel fuel had to be delivered by tanker ship every year. The new energy model is said to cut power-generation costs by 23 per cent.