Stable and reliable energy supply is a major challenge in some of the sparsely populated areas in the North Atlantic region. While nearly all electricity in Iceland derives from renewables, many other remote communities in the region are heavily dependent on fossil fuels for electricity production. Introducing more renewable energy in these areas requires energy storage solutions and better connections between power grids.
By Páll Tómas Finnsson
Sustainable energy alternatives in isolated areas
The Nordic Atlantic Cooperation, NORA, supports a range of projects exploring energy solutions of particular relevance to the North Atlantic region, which includes the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland, and coastal Norway.
“The lack of economy of scale is a challenge in all our production, and it’s very much a challenge when it comes to environmentally responsible energy provision,” says Lars Thostrup, NORA’s Executive Director. “There are many small and, to some extent, isolated communities in the North Atlantic region, and this complicates energy production and distribution.”
Up until now, fossil fuel generated-electricity has been the only available solution in many of these communities, but recent advances in energy storage and renewable energy technology open up the possibility of replacing these systems with more sustainable alternatives.
Island communities to become energy self-sufficient
The challenge is to develop small-scale renewable energy systems, capable of balancing production and demand as well as responding to the fluctuating output from renewable energy sources. One of the projects addressing this is WinDí, which is aimed at making Stóra Dímun, a small island in the southern part of the Faroe Islands, self-sufficient with energy.
“Stóra Dímun is 2.5 km2 in size and is best described as a beautiful rock in the middle of the ocean,” says Jón Björn Skúlason, Director of Icelandic New Energy and coordinator of the project.
Currently, the island’s only source of electricity is diesel, which is flown in by helicopter on a regular basis and stored on the island before being used for electricity production. Apart from being expensive, this arrangement is not exactly environmentally friendly.
“Our goal is to make the island self-sufficient with energy, by utilising wind power and storing surplus energy as hydrogen, which will then be converted into electricity when wind production is low,” Skúlason explains.
The project was initiated by the North Atlantic Hydrogen Association, inspired by a similar venture on the island of Ramea in Canada. The project group is currently conducting wind measurements and identifying suitable components for the island’s harsh environment.
Large market for sustainable energy solutions
The feasibility study will be concluded by May 2015, after which decision will be taken whether to construct the system on the island. According to Skúlason, successful installation of a solution combining wind energy and hydrogen or battery storage would represent a strong growth potential.
“You have these islands and remote communities all around the North, and there are hundreds of thousands of people living in small, isolated communities in Russia, Canada and Alaska,” he says. “All these communities are waiting for cost-effective renewable energy solutions.”
Integrated power cable network in the North Atlantic
Another important aspect of increased deployment of renewable energy is power grid interconnectivity. The North Atlantic Energy Network was recently set up to study the technical and economic feasibility of building a network of subsea power cables in the North Atlantic region.
An integrated cable network would allow for daily trading of energy, similar to the exchange between Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland in the common Nordic Electricity Market. This would enable the countries in the North Atlantic to respond swiftly and effectively to fluctuations in renewable energy production.
“Previous studies have focused on a power cable between Iceland and the Faroe Islands only, but we want to expand the idea to also include Shetland and the offshore oil platforms in the area,” says Kári M. Mortensen, Head of the Energy Department at the Faroese Earth and Energy Directorate.
“A network like this would pave the way for a vast expansion of renewable energy in the entire area, allowing the Faroe Islands and Shetland, which are highly dependent on fossil fuels today, to become self-sufficient with renewable energy,” he continues.
The partners behind the North Atlantic Energy Network are the Faroese Earth and Energy Directorate, the Faroese power company, SEV, Iceland’s National Energy Authority, the Icelandic TSO, Landsnet, the Danish Energy Agency, Ramboll Oil & Gas, and the Arctic University, Norway. Shetland is represented by the Shetland Islands Council.
Ambitious renewables integration and energy export
The Faroe Islands have ambitious plans to expand their wind power capacity. Last year, thirteen 900kW wind turbines were installed in Húsahagi, north of the capital, Tórshavn. It is estimated that, with this new wind farm, more than 20% of the electricity supply in the Faroe Islands will derive from wind power. Combined with the islands’ hydroelectric resources, renewables now cover around 60% of the total electricity consumption in the country.
“The wind potential in the Faroe Islands is fantastic,” says Mortensen. “Our production patterns show that we’ll be able to produce lots of energy during winter – more than we can use – but also that we’ll need supplemental electricity during summer.”
This accords well with the situation in Iceland, which produces less energy in its hydroelectric power plants in winter, as water levels drop due to the cold. The Faroe Islands could therefore export surplus energy from wind production to Iceland in winter, and use the neighbouring country’s abundant hydroelectric power to supply electricity in summer instead of using heavy fuel.
“This would be similar to the exchange of electricity between Denmark and Norway, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale,” Mortensen says.
Moreover, Iceland is exploring the possibility of establishing a power cable between Iceland and Scotland, where renewables became the largest source of electricity for the first time in 2014. This, according to Mortensen, would add a whole new perspective to the North Atlantic Energy Network.
“Not only would we be in a position to produce much larger quantities of renewable energy, we could also export this energy to Scotland and onward to continental Europe.”
Share of renewable energy in gross energy supply
“You have these islands and remote communities all around the North, and there are hundreds of thousands of people living in small, isolated communities in Russia, Canada and Alaska. All these communities are waiting for cost-effective renewable energy solutions”
Jón Björn Skúlason, Director of
Icelandic New Energy
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