Spotlight: Few measures to increase renewable energy in Small Island Developing States

In October 2018, my colleagues and I published an article on Utilities Policy where we review the energy systems and extent of development in renewable energy in three groups of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) – Pacific, Caribbean and those located in the Africa /South China Sea regions (You can find a full list of SIDS members here). SIDS are small developing islands that share similar economic, social and environmental constraints while being demographically and geographically diverse. Their population ranges from a few thousands to few millions and can be single islands, groups of islands or atolls with regards to their geography. In terms of meeting energy demand, almost 80% of SIDS energy needs is met by oil, despite blessed with tremendous amount of renewable energy. In the article, (1) we set out to review existing literature on SIDS’ energy systems done so far, (2) to shed some light of renewable energy development in these countries as well as (3) proposing few recommendations that can accelerate renewable energy in these countries. In this post, I summarize few of these findings, as I believe it has to reach a wider audience other that those scientists working mostly in the field:

Extent of research. Using the number of published articles over years as a proxy for the extent of research done, we started by retrieving all the papers published on SIDS energy systems for the last 23 years from scholarly search engines like Web of Science and Google Scholar by typing in specific keywords like ‘renewable energy’, ‘solar’, etc. To our dismay, we found less that a hundred articles which indicated that renewable energy development in these regions has been understudied. Research spearheaded three-fold as from 2010 even though islands have been raising the alarm over their fragile economy, high reliance on fossil fuels and vulnerability to climate change since 1987 – when the then-President of Maldives brought the issue at the UN General Assembly on October 17, 1987. Most of the research was dedicated to solar and wind, to a lesser extent on bioenergy and ocean-based energy source and very few (less than 10 publications) on hydro and geothermal. Research were mostly on resource-assessment of these energy sources (technical papers) and few papers were based on policy interventions require to develop the vast renewable energy potential in these countries. Few energy resource-assessment studies are however, unreliable and in other countries (for e.g., Comoros) potential renewable energy resources has not been quantified yet. Other highly important areas of research like economics of renewable energy, policy evaluation, socio-technical aspects, environmental implications, administration from the side of policymakers or energy education have been overlooked which is evidence of a massive gap in research in these countries, and contributing to a slow and arduous development in renewable energy.

What next? We went on to propose few recommendations that can – hopefully – lead to a positive change to this situation and develop more renewable energy.

  1. An umbrella institution. We note that there is a lack of relevant institutions in these countries that project developers and investors can address to in case they are interested in investing in clean technologies in SIDS. We therefore recommend the creation of such one ‘stop-shop facility’ which provides research and consultancy support, devise and implement business incentives, oversee negotiations over power-purchase agreement to utilities, work towards policy advocacy and, not the least of duties, assistance from negotiations to renewable energy project development to full-scale working operation. Funding for energy projects cannot come from budgetary measures alone. There is a need to create a market for electricity developers to invest in, and an umbrella institution can be helpful in this sense. Right now, any interested project developer are almost on their own, unaware in explicit details of any governmental incentives offered and how to start. Bureaucracy can be very disadvantageous to project developers as a large pool of scientific reports have highlighted and can lead to increasing the costs of the project. Such institutions can be funded by the government and allow to work as independently as possible following market principles to develop renewable energy.
  2. More research in the field. The need for more research has been highlighted above, now more research endeavors are required to cover those gaps. Without research on the topic, ‘grey areas’ with regards to renewable energy development persist which increase uncertainty and risk for project developers. SIDS can be regarded as ‘laboratories’ for experiment, demonstration and testing of new, modern and near-commercialization clean energy technologies and various other aspects of renewable energy development based on their relatively low electricity demand and their small and manageable-size electric grids but this is a characteristics that many neglect. The umbrella institution proposed earlier can be useful here as such facility can provide funding for such ‘experiments’, coordinate research activities among other initiatives. Except the local universities, no other agencies are conducting research on energy and there is thus a need for more research agencies to work on these areas.
  3. Financial mechanisms. There is no doubt that project developers react to incentives and, if we need to accelerate renewable energy development in SIDS, we need financial incentives and market-based mechanisms to do so. Many developed countries have resorted to policies like carbon pricing (carbon tax, cap-and-trade), soft-loans, tax rebates, etc. and providing the required push to project developers to keep up with their interest. It is still unclear in the literature whether there is a need for carbon pricing mechanisms in SIDS now due to their relatively small manufacturing base, but other financial mechanisms are being increasingly adopted in a number of countries irrespective of country size or GDP, but these are largely absent in a number of SIDS. There is a need for economic and financial mechanisms without them, any development in renewable energy is as fast as molasses in the winter.

These are few main points summarized from our article. Looking forward for comments from readers in particular a look out for comprehensively integrating these ideas and policies together and devising a solid and conducive energy policy in favor of more renewable energy in SIDS.

For more information, see: Surroop D, Raghoo P, Bundhoo ZMA (2018). Comparison of energy systems in Small Island Developing States. Utilities Policy, 54; 46-54, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jup.2018.07.006