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Filed under: Climate change Environment Social inclusion

Kids drawing of Krk Island, Croatia, with windmills

How kids see their island

Imagine a 100 percent renewable island: systems that provide renewable energy, the people who maintain those systems, and economic development and sustainable tourism resulting from the whole process.

Easy to imagine, right?

Now, imagine the same thing happening in Croatia. Still easy to imagine, right?!

A little over three years ago, the residents of Krk Island realized that their energy supply would be a major issue in the coming decades. They envisioned Krk as an energy independent island, the first of its kind in the Mediterranean. Achieving this vision calls for local involvement in the planning and execution of the project, so residents joined forces with the local utility company, municipal mayors and an NGO to form the Krk Island Energy Cooperative.

As a testament to how far they have come, Krk just hosted a three-day international conference called “100% Renewable Energy Islands.” The conference was organized by UNDP in Croatia, Krk Island Energy Cooperative and Heinrich Böll Stiftung, with support from the European Union (EU)-funded REScoop 20-20-20 project. It brought together national experts, the best European professionals in the field, and Croatian energy cooperative members.

All participants showed great enthusiasm, determination, and desire to promote sustainable development in their communities. They think globally, act locally.

Ten Croatian energy cooperatives presented at the conference, some of which were chosen to receive technical assistance. Their goals include installing the infrastructure for electro-mobility on an island, developing an energy autonomous school, increasing the energy efficiency of an agricultural cooperative and producing biofuel from wood processing waste.

The second day of the conference featured presentations from international experts. They covered landmark examples like the city of Schönau, the first place in Germany where a local community reclaimed its power grid from the utility company. The movement began with a priest who installed (then illegal) solar panels on his church.

Solar panels on roof of church in Schönau

Solar paneled church, Schönau

This small but significant example has encouraged some residents of Berlin to buy out the city’s power grid, estimated to be worth one billion euros. The city holds 51 percent of the grid, and their cooperative, Citizen Energy Berlin, intends to buy the remaining 49 percent.

Similarly, residents of Eigg Island in Scotland gained ownership of their island from absentee landlords and addressed its power issues. The island’s isolation (only one cable connects the island to the mainland) and frequent electricity shortages prompted the islanders to produce their own electricity from renewable sources.

Wind energy is often central to energy autonomous islands. Samsø Island was inspired by an inland initiative, the Middelgrunden wind farm in Copenhagen Bay, to increase its energy capacity with offshore wind farms.

Erik Christiansen from the Middelgrunden Wind Turbine Cooperative explained that 50 percent of the farm is owned by 9,000 shareholders, with the remaining 50 percent owned by the city’s utility company. The farm’s 20 wind turbines (with a capacity of 40 megawatts) deliver about four percent of Copenhagen’s power. Middelgrunden, which can be seen from the city, symbolizes the importance of wind energy for Denmark.

The Middelgrunden offshore wind farm near Copenhagen

The Middelgrunden offshore wind farm near Copenhagen

El Hierro in Spain struggled with an unstable electricity supply, an underdeveloped economy, and widespread unemployment. Salvador Suárez García, of ITC Canarias, spoke about how the island addressed all its problems using renewable energy.

With the help of local experts and EU funds, they developed a wind-hydro power system. It stores energy by pumping water up a hill into a reservoir when there is excess wind energy. When wind energy is lacking, the system runs water down the hill, powering a hydro turbine. The system will go online in spring 2014, and it’s expected to meet 80 percent of the island’s electricity needs (saving them the equivalent of 20 oil tankers per year).

The El Hierro wind-hydro system - topographical map

The El Hierro wind-hydro system

Mallorca, Menorca and the Greek island of Sifnos are following this example and seeking energy independence as means of local development.

The final day of the conference was dedicated a discussion about the Krk Zero Emission Strategy, developed with help from the Institute for Applied Material Flow Management in Germany. There was a presentation outlining what measures Krk needs to take to become carbon neutral, followed by a panel discussing the project’s viability.

Then there was a workshop in which Croatian cooperative members and European experts worked on policy suggestions to stimulate the growth of energy co-ops in Croatia, as well as discussing the most viable technologies and opportunities for intra co-op collaboration.

The workshop resulted in concrete measures that will be proposed to policymakers by the end of the year. This way, the conference will live beyond these three marvelous days and hopefully bring positive changes to the Croatian energy landscape.

People sitting outside on a deck, grouped around tables

Workshop on energy policies, technologies and opportunities for cooperative collaboration

The conference seems to have connected two diverse worlds – everyday citizens who dream of energy autonomy and high-level experts from the REScoop 20-20-20 project – which merged for the three days to discuss energy independence and the importance of cooperatives in achieving this goal.

Stay tuned for our next post on the concrete solutions that conference participants came up with.