Tag Archives: renewable energy

Power (Solar Power) in Paradise

By Jillian Smith, University of Birmingham 


Island of Kaua’i. (c) Jillian Smith

Popular culture portrays island living as a bucolic dream. For most, however, it is a dream fulfilled only during fleeting vacations. Island destinations often appeal to eco-tourists, and many islands are in a race to become desirable, sustainable, and carbon-neutral destinations. Nevertheless, Grydehoj and Kelman (2017) state that conspicuous sustainability as a development strategy, while strengthening ecotourism, can detract from islands’ more pressing environmental issues. The pair assert that it is not difficult to find ‘eco-islands’ that have invested in inefficient renewable energy projects. Hawai’i, however, and the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i in particular, is making headlines about the new future of renewables in island energy.

The state of Hawai’i plans to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045 – the most aggressive target in the United States (HEI, 2016). Kaua’i – Hawai’i’s fourth largest island with a population of 67,000 – has an even more aggressive energy policy. The Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) has the goal to reach 50 percent clean energy by 2023; it is well on its way (Fehrenbacher, 2017). Tesla recently completed a solar-plus-battery storage system on the island. Storage has always been the challenge with renewables – the niggling question of how to keep the lights on when the sun does not shine or when the wind does not blow. Tesla’s battery packs solve this conundrum and will assuredly keep Kauai’s lights on after dark.

The island’s new solar plant is comprised of 54,978 solar panels, 13 megawatts of solar generation capacity, alongside Tesla’s large commercial 52 MWh Powerpack batteries (KIUC, 2017). Tesla is contracted to sell the energy to KIUC for 13.9 cents a kilowatt-hour over the next 20 years (KIUC, 2017). Importantly, this price is below the island’s current energy cost, which tends to be very high due to reliance of fossil fuels shipped and stored from the mainland. This dependence has also kept the island vulnerable to outages during shipping interruptions.

While Tesla’s solar plant will reduce fossil fuel use on the island (thereby reducing carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions) greenhouse gases emitted in transporting eco-tourists to and from these destinations may preclude them from ever becoming true ‘eco-destinations’. Nevertheless, residents are excited about no longer paying the highest utility prices in the nation, and visitors and residents alike have one less concern – secure energy. Though island destinations may still form an elusive dream in our collective psyche, renewable island energy is swiftly catapulting from dream to reality.


60-world2 Fahrenbacher, K. (2016). An exclusive look at Tesla & SolarCity’s battery solar farm in paradise. Fortune. Retrieved March, 2017, from http://fortune.com/tesla-solarcity-battery-solar-farm/

books_icon Grydehøj, A. and Kelman, I. (2017), The eco-island trap: climate change mitigation and conspicuous sustainability. Area, 49: 106–113. doi:10.1111/area.12300

60-world2 Hawaiian Electric Industries (HEI). (2017). Our Vision. Retrieved March, 2017, from https://www.hawaiianelectric.com/about-us/our-vision/100-percent-renewable-energy

60-world2 Kaua’i Island Utilities Cooperative (KIUC). (2017). Hawai’i’s first utility scale solar-plus-battery storgage system is energized on Kaui’i. Retrieved March, 2017, from http://kiuc.coopwebbuilder2.com/sites/kiuc/files/PDF/pr/pr2017-0308-KIUC%20Tesla%20plant%20energized.pdf



Energy dilemmas

I-Hsien Porter

In a paper in The Geographical Journal, Michael Bradshaw describes two pressures facing energy policy.

First, there is the need to guarantee a reliable and affordable supply of energy. Energy security can be threatened by domestic disputes (e.g. in France, recent strike action caused the country to import large amounts of electricity) and international tensions (which led Russia to restrict gas exports via a pipeline to Belarus, in June 2010).

Second, the current reliance on carbon-based fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) is unsustainable. The economic and environmental costs of extracting fossil fuels, alongside the threat of climate change, means that it is increasingly difficult to match demand with carbon-based energy sources.

The Statement on Energy Policy, recently announced by the UK government, reflects these concerns. The policy envisages half the new energy capacity built in the UK between now and 2025 will come from renewable sources. Nuclear and wind power are highlighted as key areas for development.

However, as Bradshaw argues in his paper, emerging economies in the global South will cause a shift in global energy demand and production. Geographers can play a key role in informing national policies and investment, by linking changing patterns in global energy use and resource distribution, to national and local impacts.

The Guardian (18th October 2010) ‘Severn barrage ditched as new nuclear plants get green light’

Bradshaw, M. J. (2010) ‘Global energy dilemmas: a geographical perspective’, The Geographical Journal (Early view)

Öya Music Festival: Summertime, and the livin’ is greener

by Fiona Ferbrache

Organic food, eco-labels, recycling, and emission-saving cars were all part of the line-up at last week’s Öya music Festival in Oslo.  Move over music; this Norwegian summer event claims to be one of the most eco-friendly festivals in Europe and already has the European Festival’s Green n Clean award 2010, for its enormous efforts and success in being environmentally responsible.  To achieve its high standards, every single detail at the festival has been designed to have minimal impact on the environment, including powering the four stages with renewable energy generated via a hydroelectric dam.

Öya’s eco-friendly policy to adapt to their environment, and not the other way around, stands out as an example for entertainment venues, corporations and governments to follow.  Moser & Dilling’s book (2007) “Creating a Climate for Change”, (reviewed by Bailey (2010) in Area), explores the ways in which social change must be fostered towards sustainable living.  Communicating successful projects like Öya, illustrates how environmental problems can be successfully reconciled with managing the pressures and demands of operationalising a large-scale music event.  These positive results connect with the agenda in While et als. (2010) paper exploring the conflicts and power struggles involved in governmental attempts to attune urban restructuring with environmental protection.

The message is that sustainability should be part of daily life and the Öya festival provides one such example, as well as some pretty good music.

Öya Festival, Oslo, 2010

Bailey, I. (2010)Book review. Area. vol.42.1 pp.133-134

While, A., Jones, E.G., Gibbs, D. (2010) From sustainable development to carbon control: eco-state restructuring and the politics of urban and regional development. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. Vol.35.1. pp.76-93

Energy security

I-Hsien Porter

Our dependence on energy is increasingly fragile. In the US, oil companies are drilling deeper and taking more risks in response to the demand for cheap oil. In April, a Transocean/BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and sank, resulting in a massive oil spill. Regardless of how the situation has been managed, it was the demand for oil that meant that the oil rig, with all its associated risks, was there in the first place. Energy supplied by fossil fuel is becoming more risky to obtain.

Meanwhile, on the Isle of Eigg, off the west coast of Scotland, residents have been urged to use household appliances less as a lack of rain has reduced the amount of electricity generated through hydro-power schemes. Energy supplies are becoming more difficult to sustain.

In Belarus recently, piped gas supplies from Russia were reduced in response to a disagreement over payment for gas and the use of transit pipelines. Energy security is therefore not just a case of the geographical distribution of supply and demand, but is also dependant on complex social processes and international relations.

Michael Bradshaw deals with these themes in an article in Geography Compass, published in 2009. Bradshaw illustrates the multidimensional nature of energy security. For example, climate change policy is driving a reduction in reliance on carbon-based fossil fuels. At the same time, China and India’s rapidly developing economies are increasing their demand for energy, reshaping the challenges of energy security as they add their voices to the debate.

Geographers are well placed to understand the interface of the physical and political drivers of changing energy supply and demand. A key challenge remains in translating this into an understanding of energy security and the policies needed to sustain affordable and sufficient energy supplies.

Bradshaw, M. J. (2009) “The Geopolitics of Global Energy Security.” Geography Compass 3 (5): 1920-1937

US Oil Spill coverage (BBC News, 30th June)

No rain puts Eigg on toast watch (BBC News, 29th June)

Russia ‘to restart’ full gas supplies after Belarus row (BBC News, 24th June)