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Harnessing Sun, Wind and Lava for Islands’ Energy Needs

November 3, 2010 - 10:56am

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Last month, the Energy Blog featured a read out of Assistant Secretary Patricia Hoffman’s trip to Honolulu and the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI). Bolstered by HCEI, Hawaii is harnessing its indigenous sources of energy to achieve 70 percent clean energy usage by 2030. Islands across the world are similarly positioned to address their unique energy challenges with endemic resources: sun, wind, waves and lava.

Cue in the Energy Development in Island Nations (EDIN) project - this international collaboration between the United States, Iceland and New Zealand is aimed at helping islands adopt clean energy policies, technology and infrastructure to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. A team from DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) leads the U.S. side of the joint initiative.

As one example of this project’s activities, NREL recently completed a solar index of the U.S. Virgin Islands and is currently conducting a wind forecast to assess the potential of local trade winds for this American territory. This step is integral to determining the most effective placement of solar panels and wind turbines. In the Caribbean Sea, the Commonwealth of Dominica is getting help from NREL and EDIN’s Icelandic partners to advance renewable energy sources from trade winds and hot lava deep inside dormant volcanoes. And, on the other side of the world, New Zealand’s Geothermal Potential in the Pacific pilot project is focused on tapping geothermal resources to provide base load electricity at a fraction of the cost of diesel generation to Pacific island nations, including Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and the Northern Marianas Islands.

The clean energy transformation is critical to island nations and countries, the majority of which rely on imported oil for all of their energy needs. Compounding this, the price of electricity in islands is high – more than five times the continental U.S. average in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and nearly three times in Hawaii. In fact, many of the renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies that currently have a difficult time competing with the direct cost of coal in the lower 48 states can easily beat the high cost of electricity on islands.

Adam Warren, who heads NREL’s program for the U.S. Virgin Islands, discussed the great impact this project will have for island nations, “Each island is different, but our goal is to be able to take from all our experiences and have a playbook that is useful for any island in the world. We can say, ‘Here are the challenges. Here are the opportunities. Here is a process to develop a plan.”

Find more on NREL’s contributions to this initiative and on how island nations can serve as smart-grid solution models for nations stuck on the continents >

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