Paradise can be energy self-sufficient

When we think about small islands, we often picture palm trees, white sandy beaches, and a sun-soaked landscape: in other words, paradise on earth.

What we don’t think about is the big fuel-burning electrical generators humming behind the trees. Islands are rarely connected to electrical grids, so without the generators to create electricity, and fossil fuel to run the generators, islands would have no electricity.

Of course, islanders need electricity like the rest of us, but their dependence on fuel generation (often fossil based) makes them vulnerable to volatile fuel prices, putting fragile island economies at risk. Such an electrical network also means that every time you add a light bulb, an air-conditioning unit, appliance, TV, factory, school, hotel or home, you need to burn more fuel. And since islands are rarely connected to pipelines, either, fuel must be shipped in, which is undesirable for delicate island environments.

To reduce fuel dependency, many islands have set ambitious targets to increase the share of renewables, minimizing environmental impact and becoming more energy efficient. Abundant wind and solar resources have introduced substantial amounts of renewable generation into island grids, to augment traditional fuel generation. But this creates new challenges: unstable power grids.

Different sources of electrical generation such as wind turbines, solar panels or fossil fuel generators, must be carefully managed. The unpredictability and intermittency of wind and solar generation (ie, the wind calms or blows too hard, clouds block the sun) can be severe enough to cause blackouts in island grids from frequency and voltage fluctuations and potentially damage expensive infrastructure.

As a greater number of islands turn to renewable energy, the technologies that enables islands to enjoy high-quality dependable power that maximizes the use of renewable sources has been developed and tested, and is helping them to reduce consumption of fossil fuel.

Making islands more energy self-sufficient keeps them closer to the picture we have in our mind: a little piece of paradise.

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About the author

Stefania Mascheroni

I’m communications manager for ABB’s power generation and water business, a leading provider of integrated power and automation solutions for conventional and renewable-based power plants and water applications. In today’s world, we must think ahead to decide what we want to achieve to make our world better and greener, then come back to the present to decide how to make this real.
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