Clean energy not for everyone

The change to a decarbonisated economy doesn't start in the outermost islands

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If the 2,700 islands of the European Union are natural accelerators of the transition to a decarbonised economy –as the European Commission wants– the eight outermost islands must then be the awkward relatives of the family. The 2nd Clean Energy for EU Island Forum that is being held this November 5 in Lanzarote invites some paradoxical observations. It is hosted by a region that represents the first outermost economy, with a GDP of 42,460 million Euros –Eurostat, for 2016– that doubles that of the second outermost economy. It remains, even so, the region most dependent on the importation of petroleum energy, stagnated by 98.5% –Canarian Energy Yearbook, for 2016– of its total energy consumption.

More paradoxes: the host region of the Clean Energy Forum has actors and innovative projects in renewable energies that receive funds from the European Union and the Spanish State, such as the hydro-wind power station of Gorona del Viento, on the island of El Hierro –79 million euros of investment, source IDAE– or the Plataforma Oceánica de Canarias consortium, and at the same time, it is the outermost region with a lower share of renewable energies, 7.5% –Canarian Energy Yearbook, for 2016–, only greater than that of Martinique and Mayotte, and far from the 62% of Guyana –source Électricité de France, for 2016.

The following chart relates the installed wind power with the population of the outermost territories, comparing the result with those of the EU to 28 and those of the sovereign States in the outermost regions –sources, local and national statistical authorities and own calculations.

In the 2nd Clean Energy for EU Island Forum there is no predicted –at least, on the paper of the program– communications of the engineers who are leading the development of local clean energy projects that can be transformed into exportable patents to others territories of the world. None of the flagship projects of the Canary Islands in this field were among the four examples of good practices selected by the Commission for the specific session on the outermost regions in the European Week of Regions and Cities held in October in Brussels. In describing the case of the Gorona del Viento power plant, two of the engineers who participated in its construction, Sergio González and Juan Lorenzo, have observed the lack of an R + D + i program associated with the project.

Uncompromising intentions

The paradoxes of the Canaries in the energy transition illustrate the state of affairs in the insular territories and far from the continental shelf of Europe.

At the moment, the Commission’s commitment to accelerating the transition to a low greenhouse gas emissions economy in these regions remains at the level of the political declaration. The most solemn was in Valletta, Malta, on May 18, 2017, when the Ministers of Energy and Environment of the Member States decided to promote an initiative for an energy transition tailored to the islands. They created the forum that now takes place in Lanzarote in its second edition as a forum for discussion of authorities, experts and stakeholders. However, the statement emphasizes that it is only an exposition of intentions, «without any legal commitment». Beyond the voluntarism, the data show that the energy transition does not work in the outermost regions.

When, at the end of November, the local authorities of the nine regions, those of the Member States with sovereignty over these territories and those of the European Commission meet in the Canary Islands, the energy transition will be among the main topics of discussion of the Conference of the Outermost Regions. From the EU’s most remote lands, the objectives of the European Union in this field are as far away as Paris, Lisbon, Madrid or Brussels.

By 2020, the European Union expects to have reached 20% of the total consumption of energy supplied by renewable sources. The European Commission also proposes to reach 27% in 2030, reduce GHG emissions by 40% and increase energy savings to 32.5% –source of data, the European Commission. Reaching 30% savings would mean closing 600 conventional power plants.

The climate and energy package for 2020 –now extended to the horizon of 2030– foresees energy efficiency reforms in government buildings in the States and the regions at a rate of 3% of buildings per year. Large companies will be required to conduct energy efficiency audits every four years.

Sleeping architects

In this climate of combat against climate change, the outermost regions have lagged. Only Madeira and La Réunion are managing to reduce their dependence on oil to some extent. The rest remains stuck in an external energy dependence that is around 90% and, in the case of the Canary Islands, 100%.

The energy intensity is one of the most significant data to observe the degree of efficiency. It measures the gross energy consumption measured in toes (tonne of oil equivalent) that an economy needs to create a million Euros of new wealth. The following chart shows the energy intensity in the outermost regions for which we have found data available, comparing it with the situation of the European Union at 28 and the sovereign Member States in the Rup-sources, local and national statistical authorities and own calculations.

The Lanzarote Clean Energy for the EU Islands Forum is supposed to analyze to what extent the islands of the European Union, a group of 2,700 dispersed territories in the world, can be «the architects of their own energy transition», as notes the Maltese Declaration of 2017. In the case of the outermost regions, the data may not arouse the euphoria of the participants.

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