AWS Public Sector Blog

Powering smart islands: How islands can pioneer scalable green energy solutions

This is a guest post by Louisa Barker, research manager in the European Government Insights team at IDC, and Joe Dignan, the European head of government insights at IDC.

A new geopolitical and energy market reality has accelerated momentum for the green transition. The European Commission’s RePowerEU plan paves the way to make Europe independent from Russian fossil fuel before 2030, with a focus on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and diversification. This, along with the European Green Deal and NextGenerationEU (NGEU) funding, is a potent combination for sustainable energy development. But there is one geography for which energy is a perennial challenge — islands.

Due to their size, isolation, and dependence on fossil fuel imports, the cost of electricity generation on islands can be 10 times higher than on the mainland, and subject to more power outages. Islands have always sought to create a sustainable environment for their populations and have had to use ingenuity, collaboration, and civic will to make it happen—and often by using innovative technology. In this way, islands can be viewed as living laboratories of what could be scaled up for mainland communities. As the world responds to the energy crisis, islands can show a path for overcoming energy challenges.

Islands as test beds for innovate energy solutions

The island of Naxos in Greece is an exemplar of smart island innovation. The island is instrumenting infrastructure, such as the energy grid and the local marina, with internet of things (IoT) solutions and smart management systems. The information created can be made accessible through visualizations ranging from dashboards to fully functional digital twins, allowing real-time monitoring and scenario planning.  These projects are being built on global industry standards, the open-source FIWARE ecosystem, and cloud computing, enabling interoperability and an integrated approach that prevents silos.

Islands as energy leaders

Islands can be leaders in the energy transition, aided by an abundance of locally available renewable energy sources. Madeira, an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, has positioned itself as a testbed for technological innovation with smart energy as one of its core fields of experimentation. It is a self-sufficient island with no electrical connection to another landmass and is well on its way to meeting its target of producing 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2026, including solar, wind, and hydropower. Backed by funding from EU Horizon 2020 and the NGEU Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), Madeira has invested in retrofitting its grid with an intelligent control and automation system to manage the integration of multiple intermittent renewable energy sources and is linking this to demand-side data from smart meters and e-mobility charging stations.

Madeira has placed a strong emphasis on open-source standards and platforms through its collaboration with the FIWARE ecosystem. This not only streamlines the development of solutions, but also supports the integration of systems from different service providers, which is crucial for building local energy marketplaces and horizontal solutions.

Empowering citizens with energy solutions

Consumers can play a significant role in balancing electricity grids by reducing or shifting usage at peak times. Behavioral interventions, from providing real-time feedback to gamifying energy use, are effective tools to increase the energy efficiency of businesses and homes. According to the IDC Government Insights Survey (2022) nearly 40% of European governments are already experimenting with demand-side management programs and technologies to achieve their sustainability goals. Utility companies are also driving behavioral change through technology. For example, Octopus Energy, an energy tech pioneer based in London, is engaging customers with timely household energy data analytics and tools, powered by the cloud, to reduce and control consumption.

The Island of Jersey has a history of being a testbed for Innovation. As far back as 1852, Jersey was used to pilot post boxes for the British Isles. The government of Jersey recognized the opportunity and, extending the logic, set up a special purpose vehicle, Digital Jersey, to develop the infrastructure to offer itself as a testbed to prove the business case of digital transformation. Digital Jersey worked with Jersey’s resident power supplier to develop a behavioral change program to educate Islanders on how to improve their personal energy usage including creating a demonstration hub called SmarterLiving. Located in its Jersey Electricity Powerhouse retail building, customers can engage with the SmarterLiving hub to see the technology in situ and hear experts explain their usage.

Learn more about smart island energy solutions

From smart energy grids to behavioral change interventions, the injection of investment from NGEU coupled with geopolitical pressures and net zero targets will supercharge island energy initiatives. For example, Cyprus and Malta have been allocated 1.2 billion and 316.4 million, respectively, through the EU RRF. In line with the requirement for 37% of the funds to be dedicated to green initiatives, both islands are investing in smart energy projects.

But how can European Islands and other territories begin creating a smart and sustainable island strategy? Read more about how to build a smart island strategy in this IDC InfoBrief, sponsored by Amazon Web Services (AWS), which offers guidance and best practices for islands to chart a digital transformation journey. The brief describes six key activities for islands to consider to take advantage of this unique opportunity for innovative development.

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Louisa Barker

Louisa Barker

Louisa Barker is a research manager in the European IDC Government Insights team, leading research on smart, sustainable, and resilient cities and communities. She has international experience providing analysis, policy advice, and consultancy to the public sector on disaster risk management, urban building and planning regulation, and smart cities. Previous roles have included Urban Resilience Consultant at the World Bank, focused on projects in the Caribbean and East Africa, and as a researcher at technology and innovation accelerators such as the Future Cities Catapult and the University College London City Leadership Laboratory. She is also a specialist advisor to the International Building Quality Centre. Barker holds a bachelor's degree in Geography from Durham University and a master's in urban studies from University College London.

Joe Dignan

Joe Dignan

Joe Dignan is the European head of government insights and a recognized smart cities subject matter expert with over 30 years of international experience in the digital transformation arena. A professional hybrid, at home in both the public and private sector, he has a background in local and regional government, universities, technology vendors such as Microsoft and EDS, and technology accelerators such as the Future Cities Catapult. He has experience of being on the World Bank’s Smart City Expert Framework, a member of the Stakeholder Group for the European Commission’s Smart Cities and Communities Group, and the EU-China smart city expert group, and is a research fellow at Kings College London Centre for Urban Science and Progress.