Rising seas, intense storms, increased droughts, and fires are just some of the issues that people in small island nations worry about on a day-to-day basis; on top of just trying to survive in this world. Mothers must worry about whether their children will have food, shelter, proper satiation, and if the lights will turn on (if that’s even an option for them). Think about how different your own life would be without the electricity we have—if the lights didn’t work, your computer didn’t exist, or not being able to store your food in refrigerators. This is the reality for more than 1.2 billion people, who have little or no access to energy. When access to energy increases, so does access to clean water, education, and more reliable jobs, which improves the overall health of people.
Small island nations are trying to change the narrative when it comes to energy. Energy is vital to our survival in the 21st century. Traditional sources like coal, oil, and gas are not practical solutions to solve a small island nation’s need for energy because they put other critical sectors at risks, such as agriculture and fisheries, tourism, and other industries. Also, because islands are rather isolated, their markets would not benefit from affordable prices that traditional energy markets bring. The isolated market issue is one of the many constraints that small island nations face when it comes to energy access. Other constraints include limited natural resources, environmental vulnerability, and dependency on foreign sources of energy.
Countries like Palau have minimal natural resources compared to larger developing countries in Eastern Africa. As an alternative to using traditional sources of energy, many developing countries rely on biomass as their source of energy. Countries in Eastern Africa have access to a large amount of biomass, whereas small island nations’ biomass is not available as an alternative to oil and gas. Also, there is pressure on these countries to not use biomass because of the adverse effects on the environment. An alternative for small island nations is to enter the renewable energy market.
Small island nations generally have an abundance of renewable energy sources from rivers, waterfalls, wind, solar, wave power, and geothermal power. Now is the ideal time for small island nations to invest in renewable energy because the costs have dropped dramatically over the years. This allow small island nations to meet their electricity needs, reduce energy costs, create employment opportunities, broaden energy access, and set them on the path to energy self-sufficiency.
Palau is a small island nation in the Pacific who has been making noise in the headlines when it comes to renewable energy. The island nation’s population—a little over 20,000 people—currently rely on diesel fuel from other countries to meet their energy needs. The people of Palau pay twice as much per kilo-watthour ($0.24) than the average American when they only make an average of $5,000 per year. In 2018, the country announced it plans to upgrade their entire electrical grid to rely entirely on renewable energy. Palau has a current project with ENGIE and Gridmarket to build the world’s largest solar power-energy storage microgrid with 100 MW of power generation and distribution capacity without spending a dime of taxpayers’ money. Currently, Palau is on target to meet its 45% goal by 2025 renewable energy goal five years ahead of schedule. The second phase of the project is set to be completed by the end of 2019, allowing Palau to derive 100% of its electrical needs from renewables. This initiative has decreased the cost of energy to the lowest it has ever been in Palau’s history.
Overall, while small island nations have constraints to traditional energy sources and limited access to natural resources, renewable energy may be the perfect solution to meet their energy needs, while also creating a stable economy and development.