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Energy Policy Development: Unique Considerations for Small Island States

With the diversification and growth of energy sources, production, distribution and consumption in the last 30 years, many nations have developed and adopted a comprehensive energy policy. These policies typically address the development of legislation, investment incentives, measures for energy efficiency, infrastructure investments, and guidance for the direction of energy resource development, . Small Island Developing States (SIDS), often with isolated, small electric grids and similar sustainable development and climate change challenges, have unique needs requiring creative measures in an energy policy.

The majority of SIDS are located along the equator, in the South Pacific and Caribbean regions. SIDS share similar development and energy challenges, including vulnerability to natural disasters, small populations, small energy markets, isolated electric grids, excessive or complete dependence on foreign oil for electricity generation, reliance on a small number of power generation stations, and low-lying coastlines particularly susceptible to sea level rise as a consequence of climate change. Approximately a third of these countries have developed energy policies, with another third in the process of developing targets and active policy. As the remaining third consider how to shape their energy future, a number of lessons learned and considerations unique to SIDS are summarized below.

Isolated microgrids. Small electric grids, particularly those with a single electric utility and no subsea cabling connecting them to neighboring islands, may have the benefit (and challenge) of working without an electricity regulator and a technically and politically more simple electric system on which to integrate new renewable energy projects. However, such systems may have more technical limitations that limit the size and/or location of renewable energy projects, particularly those working on low-voltage lines that would typically be considered a distribution system only on a large mainland grid. These microgrids also have no ability to import or export energy during times of excess- or under-generation from fundamentally intermittent resources, such as wind or solar. Including provisions for continued base-load generation, such as natural gas, diesel, energy storage, or geothermal (where available) can support short- and long-term time shifts and energy smoothing when combined with renewables.

Alternative fuel vehicles. Electric or hybrid vehicles can mesh well with a small island’s limited road infrastructure, short travel distances and lower speed limits, but increase the electric load and are often too expensive for the general public to import from foreign markets. Measures to support adoption of electric and hybrid vehicles include reducing the tax burden for importation and providing incentives to offset the high cost of charging an electric vehicle. Fleets of vehicles, such as school or municipal buses, police, tourism, or post office vehicles are excellent candidates for pilot programs in an energy policy, as they may have sufficient volume of vehicles to take advantage of economies of scale in building the necessary infrastructure (e.g. charging stations, maintenance businesses, replacement batteries, etc.)

Energy efficiency programs. Various energy efficiency retrofits and conservation strategies can be tailored to best suit island economies. Replacing traditional sodium-vapor or incandescent street lights with solar-powered or LED energy efficient streetlights can significantly reduce nightly expensive electricity consumption. On “ring roads” along the coastline, in particular, streetlight replacement campaigns will need to consider the effect of the change in luminaries on wildlife, particularly nesting birds and turtles, which can be disturbed by certain intensities and wavelengths of lighting.  In residences and commercial industry, removing import duties on energy efficient appliances and incentivizing the use of small-scale, commercially proven and therefore lower risk technologies such as rooftop solar water heaters can take advantage of often copious sunshine and reduce pressure on electricity generation or fossil fuel imports for water heating activities.

Political engagement. As with policy development by any entity, a major component is early stakeholder engagement and cooperation to ensure all measures are relevant, coordinated amongst various programs, make efficient use of existing infrastructure, and are generally informed by the correct experts. In island nations with very small populations in particular, there may be only one program or person that is a key contributor to a particular measure; care must be taken to organize stakeholder engagement activities when that person or program is available and engaged. Similarly, one program or entity may be responsible for various programs, and careful exploration and discussion is required to ensure that energy policy measures do not create conflicts of interest for a program.

Energy policy development is a fundamentally reflective and iterative process. Carefully combining lessons learned on other SIDS with the unique characteristics of each economically and technically unique island territory will support island nations in developing a comprehensive, sustainable energy policy.

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