Scaling up Renewable Energy on Small Island Developing States: The Initiative for Renewable Island Energy


As early supporters of renewable energy technologies Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have played a pivotal role in demonstrating the role of renewables in achieving the Sustainable Development and Climate agendas. They know that overcoming reliance on fossil fuels will increase both their resiliency and economic viability.

To assist SIDS in achieving their renewable energy goals, the Republic of the Maldives as the current chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), has just announced the creation of an Initiative for Renewable Island Energy (IRIE). The announcement came during the high-level session for the Global Climate Action Agenda at COP22. Its purpose will be to support SIDS in their implementation of the renewable energy and energy efficiency components of their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to implement the Paris Agreement. IRIE is setting an initial goal of mobilising at least $1 million in grant and concessionary financing by 2020 for concrete implementation on the ground.

At the World Climate Summit in Marrakech earlier in the week, these issues were discussed in more depth. A panel discussion on Accelerating Renewable Energy Deployment in SIDS featured speakers from island States and supporting countries.

IRENA Director General Adnan Z. Amin kicked off the discussion by sharing good news on the results of the SIDS Lighthouses Initiative which was launched at the Climate Summit in New York in September 2014. The goals of the programme are to mobilise $500 million in investment, and to deploy 100 MW of new solar PV and 20 MW of new wind power over five years. Mr. Amin reported that the initiative is on track with regard to the financial mobilization, and that it will surpass the solar target.

Minister Thoriq Ibrahim of the Maldives, the current Chair of AOSIS, described some of the steps his country is taking to scale up the deployment of renewable energy. The Maldives has made renewable energy imports 100% duty-free, and has instituted a net metering system. He emphasized that the Maldives will not rely only on solar, and that they are developing Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) opportunities as well.

Siaosi Sovaleni, Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Tonga, described his country’s ambitious renewable energy targets: 50% by 2020, 70% by 2030 and 100% by 2035. He emphasized that renewables are no longer seen as “fun” but crucial. The country’s population is spread over 100 small islands, and renewable energy provides the only pathway for development. He said that taking a regional approach with other islands was critical to achieve the necessary economy of scale to bring prices down, especially for energy storage systems.

Karsten Sach from the German Environment Ministry, and Hans Olav Ibrekk from the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, provided perspectives from their countries as key supporters of the initiative. Mr. Sach explained how important it was that it was the island States themselves that are prioritising the renewable energy transition. Given that this discussion took place during COP22 in Marrakech, in the context of climate change, it sends an important signal when low-emission countries show such strong renewable energy commitments. He also said he believed the costs of storage would come down quickly.

Mr. Ibrekk reiterated his country’s commitment to provide 1% of GDP for development aid, and that SIDS had always been a high-priority. He joked that Norway “has been called lucky because we struck hydropower. Well, others are lucky because they can strike solar power.”

For SIDS, the imperative of transitioning to a renewable energy future is not new. IRIE will complement and strengthen the Lighthouses Initiative and other multilateral initiatives already operating in SIDS. IRIE will leverage the significant convening power of AOSIS to enhance the political momentum behind these initiatives and to scale-up the provision of financing and other resources through existing channels.