Sunny Playground Power
Some of the world’s most alluring tourist traps are turning into testing grounds for cleaner energy.
Island-dwellers have a good reason to be renewable power pioneers: The waters that lap their beaches isolate them from the pipelines and grids that deliver cheaper electricity on the mainland. As a result, islands around the globe typically rely on expensive, polluting diesel oil for electricity.
Dependence on tanker deliveries of oil for lighting and air-conditioning means that islands are uniquely vulnerable to spikes in the global price of oil. So from the Caribbean Sea to the South Pacific, islands are seeking new ways of capturing energy from the same native resources that draw so many people to their shores each year—sun, sea, breeze, and stunning (often volcanic) terrain.
A case in point: the U.S. Virgin Islands, where electricity prices jumped to 54 cents per kilowatt-hour, quadruple the national average, when oil prices spiked to $140 a barrel in 2008. "These are not rich communities," says Adam Warren, group manager for the deployment group of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). "It really put people in a bind. I think [island leaders] know if oil goes back up to $140 a barrel and they haven't done anything, they'll be held responsible."
But reducing an island’s dependence on oil isn't easy, Warren says, even when it can boast reliable trade winds, sunny days, geothermal potential, or access to wave power. Despite the potential for big cost savings for consumers (and potential profits for renewable technology companies), island markets just aren't big enough for many players. "Sometimes it's difficult to attract financing and get the big developers to come down and do 10 megawatts of wind. They think in the hundreds." A smaller population also means fewer specialists to draw on, so expertise needs to be imported along with the technology.
Yet across the globe, islands are making huge strides toward reducing carbon emissions. The Virgin Islands (pictured: Saint Croix) have pledged a 60 percent reduction in fossil fuel use in the next 15 years, while the island of Bonaire, a special municipality of the Netherlands in the former Netherlands Antilles, has sworn to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2015. Here’s a look at some islands around the world that are taking steps—some large, some small—to wean themselves off of oil.