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Two constraints stand out as the main barriers standing in the way of islands that want to go green, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA): firstly the difficulty to breaking away from imported fossil fuel with relatively small-scale renewable projects; and secondly, the economic feasibility of ambitious proposals in small or remote locations.
Focusing on these challenges are not intended to discourage islands from going green but rather to make sure we can match ambition with reality and offer the support needed to make decarbonisation goals achievable. The findings emerged from a meeting held by IRENA in January to provide Small Island Developing States (SIDS) with an update on its SIDS Lighthouses Initiative.
“Project size and scalability are key constraints for financing renewable energy projects in SIDS,” explained Jennifer DeCesaro, IRENA Senior Programme Officer focusing on SIDS. “Perceived risks undermine private sector finance and many islands have to rely on public funds and development assistance to expand the use of renewable energy. More than that, limited technical skills and regulatory schemes often act as barriers to the development of renewable energy resources.”
For example, grid integration of variable renewables and the priority of keeping the lights on often emerges as a key point of discussion between government and utility operators. Yet a recent study for Barbados showed a 76% renewable generation share there would be technically and economically feasible.
IRENA has developed Quickscan to help islands assess their ability to deploy renewables around seven critical elements: institutional framework, knowledge base, planning, financing, deployment, capacity building and co-operation. The 38 assessments carried out so far point out capacity building and bankability of project proposals as issues in most cases.
“If we’re going to make SIDS sustainable, we need to make sure their projects are economically sustainable first,” said DeCesaro.