south african business link to experts

sable blog post« Back to Blogs Listings

November 27, 2017

Lessons Learned From Two Islands Using Only Renewable Energy

Jackie Edwards

As a global society, many people are working to create systems and infrastructure that are more sustainable to the earth. This work goes in concert with the task of getting more low-cost energy to those who live in poverty, like the work of Lifeline Energy.

Creating more sustainable and low-cost energy solutions will cut down on harmful mining and drilling practices across the globe, and improve people’s quality of life. Both issues are imperative to address. Two islands, Tasmania and El Hierro, have transitioned over to using 100% renewable energy sources. As a global society, there are valuable lessons that we can learn from their progress.

Lessons Learned From Tasmania: Balance of Sources and The Importance Of Backup Methods

Tasmania, an island off of Australia, has an extensive hydro dam network.  The dams provide 90% to the countries power. Tasmania also has wind farms and uses solar energy. At times, Tasmania’s citizens can function on 100% renewable energy.

However, when droughts occur, Tasmania’s many hydro-electric power sources are ineffectual, and cannot meet the energy demands of the state. This is one primary lesson in renewable energy infrastructure: There must be back up sources in place so that the country or area can continue to function without one source.

In Tasmania, where so much of the energy was reliant on flowing water, the system went into crisis mode when there were low amounts of rainfall. With a balanced system, and back-up methods, this would not happen.

This can be a challenge because renewable energy is reliant on the resources that are abundant in an area. In Northwest South Africa, for example, the desert climate renders hydro-electricity impossible. In that same environment, potential solar power is abundant.

The key to providing a sustainable energy infrastructure that works is combining sources in such a way that the strengths of one area can be united with the strong aspects of another geographical area.

Lessons Learned From El Hierro: Seasonal Winds and Energy Production

El Hierro, one of the Canary Islands, used to run entirely on Diesel fuel. It also produces environmentally harmful fumes, like carbon monoxide and nitrogen compounds. Diesel fuel comes from refined crude oil, the sourcing of which has a high negative impact on the earth.

Also, diesel is costly. In 2014, El Hierro leadership decided to switch over to renewable energy instead of diesel, and this change was predicted to save the island about 29,000,000 rand (1.8 Million euros). The transition over to renewable energy plants cost about 50 times that much in the capital.

The primary source of energy was supposed to be a wind and combined hydro system. This worked well in months with high winds, like June, July, and August. But at other times of the year, the system failed to produce sufficient amounts of energy.

Because renewable energy sources are dependent on wind speeds, water levels, and light from the sun, it is essential to study these resources before transitioning over to sustainable energy. Intermittent energy sources, like the wind, will sometimes be high and sometimes low. A plan must be in place to account for these fluctuations and make the system work as a whole despite the changes.

In our quest for energy solutions, it is good to learn from those who have pioneered the way. The energy experimentation on two islands, Tasmania and El Hierro, can teach us a great deal about what it means to harness the energy that nature supplies. Nature is cyclical and intermittent. 

Now working as a writer, Jackie started her career in foreign aid work, traveling through Africa and witnessing what life is like for people who are less fortunate, but after becoming a mom refocused and decided to spend more time with her family. When she's not writing, she volunteers for a number of local mental health charities and also has a menagerie of pets to look after.