Cyprus Mail
Opinion

Creating a fully sustainable island

Aquamarine Oyster 800 Wave device installation in Orkney

By Ian McGrath

AS THE European Union revisits energy security in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis, it’s a timely reminder of Cyprus’ progress over recent years in boosting its own renewable energy industry to help decrease its reliance on imported fuels.

Supportive government policies established over the last five years, including feed-in tariffs and net metering have seen the Cypriot renewable energy sector grow by over 150 per cent, focusing primarily on wind, solar and some biomass technologies.

The next step is to think about what can be achieved in the long term. As with most island nations, Cyprus relies on importing fossil fuels, spending much of its foreign currency reserves on these shipments and leaving itself vulnerable to energy price shocks and supply chain disruption, not to mention the high carbon footprint. Cyprus could build on its renewable energy momentum and tackle its ongoing challenges with energy, water and waste management head on to help it become more sustainable and self-sufficient, which is why it should look no further than Scotland.

On first look, one might think that the two nations have little in common. Cyprus enjoys a warm, sunny island climate compared to Scotland’s cooler, more changeable weather. But Scotland also has plenty of islands nestled around its coastline and they too are challenged by expensive energy imports and issues dealing with the islands’ waste. To meet these challenges, Scottish Development International (SDI), the trade and investment arm for Scotland, has pioneered a “Sustainable Islands” programme. This programme enables island communities to become more sustainable by either generating their own power, managing their resources more efficiently or improving access to fresh water. This programme is already being rolled out on the Isle of Eigg and the Orkney Islands in Scotland, and currently under discussion in other island nations such as the Canary Islands and Jamaica.

In each project, SDI has brought together Scottish knowledge, expertise, technology and engineering skills developed in the world renowned oil and gas sector and later applied to renewables, to create bespoke solutions to island energy challenges. The projects have been so successful, SDI now hopes to export globally as more and more islands combat the effects of climate change.

It’s not just about the energy an island generates; it’s also about maximising its use. Cyprus in particular has a combination of solar thermal (one of the highest proportions across households in the world) providing plenty of local heat during daylight hours, as well solar PV and wind energy feeding into the power grid intermittently, all of which need to be managed alongside energy from traditional sources to meet consumer demand. Scotland has specific experience in making islands more sustainable by successfully implementing smart grids and new forms of energy storage.

The Orkney Islands’ grid was the first network in the world to link an energy storage system with the integrated output from solar, wave, wind and tidal generation. Smarter Grid Solutions (SGS) ran the project, introducing intelligent control software and hardware to control energy generation more efficiently, and were able to add an extra 20MW to the system at a cost of £500,000 instead of a subsea cable, which would have cost £30,000,000. The Isle of Eigg on the other hand is completely off-grid, and uses a battery storage system alongside its diesel, wind, hydro and solar generation.

These instances demonstrate a willingness to test a new technology, and they give Scottish companies the experience to offer this know how abroad. Obviously Cyprus operates on a much larger scale than these examples (the population of the Orkney Islands is approximately 21,000), however, this approach can be used as potential models for local and decentralised generation to help decrease Cyprus’ reliance on imports and fossil-fuel derived sources.

Also another crucial challenge remains for Cyprus in the form of water security, which needs to be addressed just as aggressively as its energy distribution. Scotland’s experience in this sector is directly applicable, with its policies on zero waste, water and sewerage among the most progressive in the world. Particularly in the water and sewerage sector, Scotland has technologies that can give an integrated solution across sectors – using by-products and energy from one process to fuel another.

For example, a Scottish desalination process for drinking water for an island may use less energy if it is combined with heat extraction from sewerage processing and a high efficiency heat pump. A by-product of this process creates chilled district cooling water to replace electric air conditioning for hotels. In this way, cross-sector processes can be linked, reducing energy needs, improving energy efficiency for the country, and cutting costs compared to transporting fresh water through a pipeline. Scottish Water has invested £5.5 billion in new technologies and ways of working. It has reduced operating costs by 40 per cent, and its international consulting arm – Scottish Water International – is advising utility companies and governments in the Middle East on water management strategies and best practice.

The economic crisis has made it difficult for governments and foreign investors to follow through on support for many green policies, despite it once being a central pillar in European energy ambitions. Particularly in Cyprus’ case, new gas discoveries off the coast of the island could become a priority over green development, with funds diverted from cleantech investment to potentially shorter term gains from fossil-fuel derived energy. In this context, Scotland has adapted its approach to be as cross-sector as possible, in many cases a complete package of interlinked solutions to solve a number of issues. The collaborative aspect of the sustainable island concept makes low carbon energy projects more attractive for international funding, as well as lowering the risks for companies operating in new markets. The concept also creates new markets for a wider range of supporting activities such as consulting, education and training, as well as research and development programmes, providing jobs and growth as well as a 360 degree solution for an integrated infrastructure programme dedicated to meeting the country’s sustainability needs.

So, as the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow brings nations together and showcases the very best of sporting talent, why not consider the Scottish people living on islands with the same challenges as Cyprus and the gold medal worthy sustainable energy solutions they would be delighted to share with fellow islanders.

Ian McGrath is International Energy Project Manager at Scottish Development International and originator for SDI’s Sustainable Island concept. 

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